Congress's Flavored Tobacco Ban Would Create a Dangerous Black Market | Citizens Against Government Waste

Congress's Flavored Tobacco Ban Would Create a Dangerous Black Market

The WasteWatcher

Within the next two weeks, the House of Representatives is likely to consider H.R. 2339, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019.  This legislation would make it illegal to sell any flavored electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) product, or e-cigarette.  It would also ban flavors in other tobacco products, including menthol, mint, and spice flavors found in combustible cigarettes and cigars and non-combustible products like chewing tobacco.  Only natural tobacco flavor would be allowed.

Citizens Against Government Waste sees a disaster in the making if this legislation should become law.

Certainly, people should be concerned about youth use of tobacco products.  Fortunately, smoking combustible cigarettes, which is known to cause cancer and other serious illnesses, has been on a decline for years.  In 1965, 42.4 percent of adults smoked cigarettes.  In 2019, the figure was 13.7 percent.  As for youth, their use of cigarettes has also declined.  For high school students, it went from 29 percent in 1976 to 3.6 percent in 2018.  This is a good thing.

ENDS are playing a major role in helping people quit smoking and have found to be more successful than traditional smoking cessation products such as gum or patches.  England continues to take the lead in using ENDS to help its citizens quit smoking.

The attack on e-cigarettes began with reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that youth use of e-cigarettes had climbed significantly, a 78 percent increase among high school students, from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018, calling it an epidemic. 

However, looking more closely at the most recent data, the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), showed that 64.8 percent of youth had never tried an e-cigarette.  While 34.9 percent had tried an e-cigarette within the last 30 days, that could mean just having a few puffs.  A more relevant figure, 6.7 percent of youth, had used an e-cigarette in their entire life for more than 100 days.  While that figure is certainly something to be concerned about, and where the focus should be, most people would agree that is not an epidemic.  It certainly should not lead to banning tobacco harm reduction products, such as ENDS, that are helpful in weaning people off smoking.

During the late summer, the news was covered with horrific reports of severe illnesses and death due to “e-cigarette product use-associated lung injury” or EVALI.  Now, months later, the CDC admits the data shows the main culprit in causing the illness was tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products.  Most of these products were obtained from “informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online dealers, are linked to most EVALI cases and play a major role in the outbreak” and that “Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak.”  Vitamin E is used as a cutting agent or thickener in manufacturing illicit vaping liquid.

In other words, it was the black market that caused the problem, not the genuine ENDS market that has been so important to adults that want to quit smoking and depend on the variety of flavors to do so.

Congress just passed legislation in December 2019 that raised the age from 18 to 21 for the legal use of any tobacco product.  One would think Congress should wait for that law to take hold before passing a draconian measure such as H.R. 2339.  The law passed in December should make it harder for high schoolers to get an e-cigarette from a friend, which according to the 2019 NYTS, is their main source for these products.  However, there will be plenty of people 21 and over that will sell tobacco products to teens so the best education and oversight comes from parents, not the government.

Everyone is grateful to see that EVALI cases have dropped significantly, but there is a warning Congress, the CDC, and FDA should take from this tragic event.

CAGW is concerned similar results will occur if a flavor ban is implemented on ENDS and other tobacco products, either by Congress through law or the FDA through its regulatory zeal.  Current adult users of e-cigarettes will either go back to combustible cigarettes or take the chance and purchase illegal flavored products. If this bill becomes law, it will create a health crisis that could have been avoided.