PROPOSED FLAVOR BAN WOULD SNUFF OUT HARM REDUCTION IN CALIFORNIA

May 13, 2020

By: Lindsey Stroud

​KEY POINTS:

  • Senate Bill 793 would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers, and includes bans on menthol cigarettes, as well as flavored cigars

  • There is increasing evidence that youth are not using e-cigarettes due to flavors.

  • A May 2020 “research letter” published in JAMA examined a survey of 1,129 respondents between 14 and 24 years old. Only 4.7 percent of respondents reported “flavors” as a reason for JUUL use, compared to the 62.2 percent of respondents that cited social reasons.

  • In an analysis of five state surveys on youth e-cigarette use, only 15.6 percent of high school students cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors.

  • A ban on menthol cigarettes is unlikely to reduce youth combustible use.2020 report found that states “with more menthol cigarette consumption relative to all cigarettes have lower rates of child smoking.”

  • Although white Americans smoke more menthol cigarettes than black or African Americans, “black smokers [are] 10-11 times more likely to smoke” menthol cigarettes than white smokers and this could lead to issues among law enforcement and communities of color.

  • According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the vaping industry provided more than $2.9 billion in economic output in the Golden Gate State. In the same year, the vapor industry employed more than 6,600 Californians, generating over $346 million in wages alone. California received over $183 million in state taxes attributable to e-cigarettes and vapor products in 2018.

  • Flavors made up 78 percent of e-liquid sales in 2016.

After failing to pass in 2019, new legislation in the Golden Gate State seeks to ban flavors in tobacco and vapor products. Senate Bill 793 would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers, and includes bans on menthol cigarettes, as well as flavored cigars.  

Proponents of the ban claim that flavors drive youth e-cigarette use. The bills author remarked that “[m]enthol cigarettes, sweet cigars, candy vapes, and other flavored tobacco products serve one purpose: to mask the harshness of tobacco and get users hooked.”

Although, addressing youth use of tobacco and vapor products is laudable, there is scant evidence that youth are using e-cigarettes because of flavors. Moreover, millions of California adults rely on flavors in e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking and remain smoke free. The inclusion of a menthol cigarette ban would also have severe unintended consequences and disproportionately impact communities of color. Further, banning flavors in vapor products would eliminate billions of dollars in revenue, millions of dollars in taxes, and lead to job loss for thousands of Californians.

There is increasing evidence that youth are not using e-cigarettes due to flavors. A May 2020 “research letter” published in JAMA examined a survey of 1,129 respondents between 14 and 24 years old. Only 4.7 percent of respondents reported “flavors” as a reason for JUUL use, compared to the 62.2 percent of respondents that cited social reasons.

In an analysis of five state surveys on youth e-cigarette use, only 15.6 percent of high school students cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors. These findings are similar to an analysis of the 2019 National Youth Tobacco survey, which found only 22.4 percent of middle and high school students cited flavors as a primary reason for e-cigarette use, whereas 55.3 percent reported curiosity and 30.8 percent claimed to use an e-cigarette because a “friend or family member used them.”

A ban on menthol cigarettes is unlikely to reduce youth combustible use. Analysts at the Reason Foundation examined youth tobacco rates and menthol cigarette sales. The authors of the 2020 report found that states “with more menthol cigarette consumption relative to all cigarettes have lower rates of child smoking.” Indeed, the only “predictive relationship” is between child and adult smoking rates, finding that “states with higher rates of adult use cause higher rates of youth use.”

Banning menthol cigarettes could lead to unintended consequences, including fostering black markets. For example, a 2012 study featured in the journal Addiction found a quarter of menthol smokers surveyed indicated they would find a way to purchase, even illegally, menthol cigarettes should a menthol ban go into place.

Police would also be required to enforce the ban on menthol cigarettes, and will likely lead to racial repercussions. Although white Americans smoke more menthol cigarettes than black or African Americans, “black smokers [are] 10-11 times more likely to smoke” menthol cigarettes than white smokers and this could lead to issues among law enforcement and communities of color. In 2019, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, a man who died in police custody after being arrested for selling illegal loose cigarettes, implored the New York City council to “pay very close attention to the unintended consequences and what it would mean for communities of color.”

While the proposed legislation is unlikely to impact youth vaping and could lead to disparities among communities of color, it will eliminate billions in economic revenue and force many Californians out of work. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the vaping industry provided more than $2.9 billion in economic output in the Golden Gate State. In the same year, the vapor industry employed more than 6,600 Californians, generating over $346 million in wages alone. California received over $183 million in state taxes attributable to e-cigarettes and vapor products in 2018. Flavors made up 78 percent of e-liquid sales in 2016, a ban on flavors would eradicate the $2 billion industry in California.

Perhaps most troublesome is that California dedicates very little of existing tobacco monies on helping smokers quit and preventing youth tobacco and vapor product use. For example, in 2019, the Golden Gate State received over $2.8 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement payments. In the same year, California allocated only $250.4 million, or 8 percent, of state monies to tobacco control programs, including education and prevention.

E-cigarettes have emerged as tobacco harm reduction tool that is twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy in helping smokers quit. Millions of American adults have used these products to successfully quit smoking. Rather than restrict adult access to tobacco harm reduction tools, California lawmakers should invest more of existing tobacco monies in programs that can actually reduce youth e-cigarette use.

Nothing in this analysis is intended to is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of Tobacco Harm Reduction 101. For more information on vapor products in California, please visit Tobacco Harm Reduction 101’s California page at www.thr101.org/california.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

©2020 by Tobacco Harm Reduction 101.