Do restrictions on e-cigarettes, such as flavour bans, send users back to smoking? No doubt it’s the law of unintended consequences at work, but the answer would seem to be “yes”.
In April 2019, a headline in Britain’s Financial Times summed up the then situation neatly: “US cigarette sales drop as smokers shift to vaping”.
Now here’s another headline, this one from the Wall Street Journal at the end of last month: “Cigarette smoking makes comeback during coronavirus pandemic”.
According to the WSJ: “Americans are smoking more during the coronavirus pandemic because they are spending less on travel and entertainment and have more opportunities to light up. They are also switching back to traditional cigarettes from vaping devices in the wake of federal restrictions on e-cigarette flavors.”
Back to bad old habits
There were warnings before the US government banned some pod and cartridge-based flavours in January that the move – aimed at cutting youth vaping – would result in more adults smoking.
And indeed it now appears that smokers who had switched to flavoured e-cigarettes are now reverting to old habits.
Just as was predicted by a 2017 Yale study which concluded that “a ban on flavored e-cigarettes would drive smokers to combustible cigarettes, which have been found to be the more harmful way of getting nicotine”.
There also seems to be good reason to doubt the common assumption that “appealing flavours” draw youngsters irresistibly to e-cigarettes.
Curiosity wins over flavours
According to analysis by no less an authority than the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary reason kids experiment with e-cigarettes is curiosity. Fewer than a quarter of those who try vaping say they do so because of appealing flavours.
Last year, San Francisco banned the sale of all flavoured tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. A recent study in Addiction Behavior Reports found that after the ban was implemented, cigarette smoking among 18-24-year-olds in the city increased.
That report concluded: “local [flavour] bans can significantly reduce overall e-cigarette use and cigar smoking but may increase cigarette smoking.”
Legislators should perhaps bear this in mind when considering bills such as California’s no doubt well-intentioned Senate Bill 793, which would ban flavoured tobacco and e-cig products statewide. Will they? Don’t hold your breath.
Photo: Janek Szymanowski