As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to delay authorizing flavored e-cigarette products, as well as mulling over a potential flavored cigar and cigarette ban, states have also sought to introduce bans on the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products. Proponents of such policies point towards the so-called fake epidemic among youth vaping, even though vaping rates have significantly declined in the past few years. Moreover, there were greater declines in youth vaping rates among states that did not have flavor bans in place.
Massachusetts banned the sales of flavored tobacco and vapor products in 2020. Similar to national and other state data, youth vaping peaked in the Bay State in 2019 when 14.7% of middle schoolers and 51.1% of high schoolers reported ever trying a vapor product. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of e-cigarettes declined by 39.5% among Massachusetts high schoolers and by 31.3% among middle schoolers. Among high school students, current vaping rates, defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior, declined by a whopping 45%.
Proponents of prohibiting the sale of flavored vapor products have welcomed these declines, turning towards the two-year ban the state has had in place as the reason for reducing vaping rates among American youth. Yet, in states that have not imposed such prohibitions, vaping rates declined as well and, in some cases, far more significantly.
For example, in neighboring New Hampshire, current vaping rates among high schoolers decreased by 52% from 33.8% in 2019 to 16.2% in 2021. In Hawaii, where lawmakers are currently mulling over banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products, current vaping rates among middle students decreased by 62.1% and by 51.6% among high school students. Connecticut has also debated banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products. Between 2019 and 2021, the percentage of Connecticut high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes declined by 60.7% between 2019 and 2021.
If anything, vaping rates have declined more significantly in states without flavored bans in place. For instance, among Rhode Island high school students, current use of e-cigarettes decreased by only 40.9% between 2019 and 2021. The Ocean State banned the retail sale of flavored e-cigarettes in October 2019.
While addressing youth use of age-restricted products is laudable, excessive taxation and prohibition on alternatives to smoking harm the 31 million American adults who continue to smoke combustible cigarettes.
Despite the rhetoric, adults rely on flavored e-cigarette products to remain smoke-free as well as maintain cessation. For example, a 2020 cohort study of nearly 18,000 participants found that “adults who began vaping non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes were more likely to quit smoking than those who vaped tobacco flavors.”
There is also data on youth use indicating that flavors are not the most commonly cited reasons why youth are using e-cigarettes. According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, among U.S. middle and high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes, nearly half (43.4%) cited using them because they were feeling anxious, depressed, and/or stressed, compared to only 13.4% who cited using them because of flavors.