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September 10, 2019

Illinois lawmakers recently introduced legislation that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

H.B. 3883, also known as the Flavored Tobacco Product Ban Act, would prohibit the sale and distribution “of any flavored tobacco product.” Banned flavors include, but are not limited to, “tastes or aromas relating to any fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, mint, wintergreen, herb, or spice.” Menthol and tobacco flavors are not included in the ban. Further, tobacco cessation products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are not included in the ban.

Many localities and states have considered banning flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, as a way to combat youth use of vaping devices. Although these policies are meant to do good, they are ineffective measures to curb youth e-cigarette use. Further, such bans restrict adult access to tobacco harm reduction products. Even worse, these policies are likely to lead current adult e-cigarette users back to combustible cigarettes. In other words, they do more harm than good.

The Heartland Institute analyzed results from the 2017-18 California Youth Tobacco Survey (CYTS) and found that despite flavor restrictions in some localities, youth use of e-cigarettes in those areas had increased after the bans went into place.

Santa Clara County, California, banned flavored tobacco product sales to age-restricted stores in 2014. Despite this, youth e-cigarette use increased while the ban was in effect. For example, in the 2015-16 CYTS, 7.5 percent of Santa Clara high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes. In the 2017-18 CYTS, this increased to 10.7 percent.


Further, flavors are practically essential in e-cigarettes and vaping devices. A 2013 internet study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health noted that flavors in electronic cigarettes “appear to contribute to both perceived pleasure and the effort to reduce cigarette consumption or quit smoking.” A 2015 study by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association surveyed more than 27,000 American adults. Seventy-two percent of respondents “credited tasty flavors with helping them give up tobacco.”

A 2018 survey, conducted by researchers at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, Greece, and Centre for Substance Use Research, Scotland, UK, surveyed nearly 70,000 American adults and found that 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively. Only 20 percent of respondents reported using tobacco flavors at the point of e-cigarette initiation.

Further, it is highly likely that banning flavored e-cigarette products could prompt former smokers to return to tobacco cigarettes. A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded banning flavors “would result in the increased choice of combustible cigarettes.” Indeed, the authors expect e-cigarette use to decrease by approximately 10 percent if flavors are banned.

Despite recent media fearmongering, e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes, as first noted by Public Health England (PHE) in 2015. In 2018, PHE reiterated this claim, stating “vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.”

Other public health groups including the Royal College of Physicians, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Cancer Society (ACS) have noted the reduced harm of e-cigarettes and vaping devices. Further, ACS attributes the reduced harm of e-cigarettes to the fact that these devices “do not contain or burn tobacco.”

Instead of enacting a flavor ban that would undoubtedly harm adults, lawmakers should divert existing tobacco moneys on programs and prevention efforts. Of the $1.1 billion Illinois received in tobacco settlement payment and taxes in 2019, the state extended only $9.1 million, or 0.008 percent, to tobacco education and prevention programs.

Flavors are essential for helping smokers quit combustible cigarettes and utilize electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Although addressing youth e-cigarette use is laudable, existing bans have not been effective in curbing youth use of e-cigarettes. Moreover, such bans threaten tobacco harm reduction options for adults. Rather than restricting adult access to products that are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes, policymakers should invest more of their existing moneys from tobacco settlement payments and taxes on education and prevention programs.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute or Tobacco Harm Reduction 101.

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