San Francisco became the first city in the country to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products through an ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors; this recently-passed flavor ban applies to traditional tobacco products as well as to e-liquid flavors, thanks to the precedent set by the FDA’s deeming rule, regulating vapor products as tobacco products. The law was fiercely promoted by the tobacco control movement, while the Small Business Commission, convenience stores and vape shops stood in opposition.
Malia Cohen, Supervisor of San Francisco’s Disctrict 10 and sponsor of the legislation, argued that Big Tobacco “maliciously” uses flavors to market to “vulnerable populations,” including youth, black communities, and LGBTQ people. Her rationale for the flavor ban is founded on a purported strategy utilized by “Big Tobacco” in which packaging and candy-esque flavor names are used to intentionally appeal to children and new users, in an attempt to recruit a whole new cohort of customers who will become addicted to tobacco products.
There are three main problems with this logic:
1. The vape industry is independent of Big Tobacco, despite the attempt of major tobacco companies to enter and capitalize on the booming vape market, otherwise one of the largest threats to its profit-generating ability in history. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. The fact that the vape industry, dominated by small businesses, is constantly conflated with the very industry it was established to oppose, is perhaps the most harrowing demonstration of either incompetency or corruption on the part of those creating regulation at all levels, for this conflation will ultimately benefit Big Tobacco exclusively. If the availability or effectiveness of the alternative offered by vaping is undermined, cigarettes will once again become the only or preferred option for nicotine delivery for countless people.
2. Adult vapers overwhelmingly prefer sweet, flavored e-liquids. While this is highly obvious to anyone in the vape community, the available evidence is likewise in support. One study found that 72% of adult vapers surveyed prefer non-tobacco/non-menthol flavors; another study found that 68 percent of e-cigarette users prefer flavors over standard tobacco-flavored e-liquids and that the use of flavored products is “prominent among US adult tobacco users.” If these flavors are likewise appealing to young people, doesn’t the minimum age to vape of 21 in California, as well as the marketing/advertising limitations set forth by the FDA regulations, help ensure that these youths do not have access? Why are adults penalized? Are sweet alcohols completely banned from the market because of their propensity to appeal to youth? No. This is another glaring example of differential treatment of the vape industry by policy-makers and regulatory agencies.
3. Most vapers are former smokers, not entirely new users. A comprehensive European study found that 6.1 million Europeans have quit smoking analog cigarettes through the use of electronic cigarettes. The results of a nationwide survey in the Ukraine reveals similar results: 82% of vapers are ex-smokers. The 2017 Vaper Preference Survey conducted in the USA reveals that 80% of respondents reported switching to vapor products to stop smoking, while 11% did so to reduce cigarette use. Further, for those who have been vaping for more than two years, 97% identified as former smokers. Finally, there has not been a single study showing that vaping leads to smoking, regardless of age, so the gateway effect, a theory that individuals and especially youth who try a (flavored) e-cigarette and then become cigarette smokers, is unsubstantiated and yet has seemingly informed this policy decision.
What can you do?
Visit this link to send a pre-written letter (your personal additions are, of course, welcome), expressing to the full Board of Supervisors how tobacco harm reduction has helped you. Your voice and your story matter!
You can also write individually to the Board of Supervisors expressing your disappointment with this law. Sharing your story, and the importance of flavors to your vaping experience (if relevant), can help facilitate an environment characterized by greater understanding.