California Got it Wrong on Flavored Tobacco | Citizens Against Government Waste

California Got it Wrong on Flavored Tobacco

The WasteWatcher

California voters took a giant step backward in reducing tobacco harm by passing Proposition 31, a permanent ban on flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. California is the fifth state to institute a permanent flavor ban on tobacco products, including mint and menthol cigarettes, flavored electronic cigarettes (vaping and heat-not-burn), and smokeless tobacco. The asserted reason for the ban is to prevent youth vaping and save lives and taxpayer dollars by preventing tobacco-related healthcare expenses. However, Proposition 31 is misguided and will fail to accomplish any of those objectives. 

Playing on the heartstrings and using fear tactics about addiction has been a key strategy to enact flavor bans, but among many problems with those arguments is that youth vaping has declined substantially. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there were “an estimated 1.73 million fewer current youth tobacco product users in 2020 (4.47 million) compared to 2019 (6.20 million),” equal to a 28 percent reduction in young smokers.

In addition to failing to fix a problem that does not exist regarding youth tobacco product users, banning flavored tobacco products has a very serious adverse consequence on adults who are trying to quit smoking. From 2007 to 2015, more than 3 million U.S. adults used tobacco harm reduction (THR) products to quit smoking cigarettes. Instead of an all-out ban on these products, states should aim to enforce laws already on the books to limit underage consumption. Banning flavored e-cigarettes, which are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, is counterintuitive to saving lives. Vaping alone can reduce tobacco-related deaths as it is 95 percent less harmful than traditional smoking. 

Not only is there a public health concern regarding California’s misguided ban, but also an adverse economic impact by limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products. In 2019 and 2020, menthol-flavored cigarettes made up 37 percent of all cigarette sales in the U.S., according to the CDC. If banned, the lost tax revenues will reduce government budgets and require either higher taxes or cuts in spending to make up for the financial loss. 

Flavor bans don’t work and are ineffective. They also eliminate the options available to adult smokers who want to quit smoking. There is an economic impact when small businesses cannot sell products that consumers demand. Permanent bans on flavored tobacco products open the door to the dangers of the black market, jeopardizing consumer safety with unregulated products. In December 2020 Customs and Border Protection along with the Food and Drug Administration seized 33,681 totaling $719,453 worth of unapproved E-cigarettes at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Fighting counterfeit e-cigarettes is an ongoing battle and eliminating regulated products on the market only worsens the problem.

If public health truly is a top priority for the state of California, the state should focus on facts regarding flavored THR products and aim to educate consumers on safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes instead of banning products that help adults quit smoking.