Flavor Ban Is the Wrong Way to Combat Teen Vaping
On September 11, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump held a press conference in the White House to discuss his plan of action to combat teen vaping. More than two months later, the FDA guidance for the proposed flavor ban still hasn’t been released, and President Trump is meeting with members of the vaping industry to discuss a potential compromise. It is possible that there will be no flavor ban after all, but the industry continues to await a final announcement.
Flavor Ban Would Have Devastating Health and Economic Impacts
Trump proposed the vape juice flavor ban under the premise that the U.S. has a serious problem with teen vaping. Underage vaping is a problem that we need to solve right away. Most children are using flavored vape juice. Therefore, if we get rid of the flavors, teens won’t vape.
There are, however, two significant logic gaps in that notion.
- Most adult vapers also use flavored vape juice – and millions of adults have quit smoking thanks to vaping. Unlike teens, though, adults can buy cigarettes easily and legally. In the event of a vape juice flavor ban, many adults will likely return to smoking.
- According to a 2014 estimate, there are about 35,000 vape shops in the United States. As of 2019, the number of vape shops is likely even larger than that. In the event of a flavor ban, most of those vape shops will find themselves with almost nothing to sell. City and state flavor bans have already resulted in the closure of hundreds of vape shops in 2019. A nationwide flavor ban will bankrupt tens of thousands of small businesses and will result in the layoffs of many, many thousands of workers.
Flavor Ban Could Stifle Trump’s 2020 Reelection Bid
President Trump’s willingness to meet with representatives from the vaping industry could signal a realization that a blanket flavor ban would cause irreparable harm to small businesses around the country – the exact opposite of the goals stated in the Republican President’s 2016 election platform. It is also possible, though, that Trump proposed the ban before he fully understood what the ban could potentially do to his bid for a second presidential term.
In the 2016 election, President Trump won in key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin by incredibly narrow margins. In Florida, for example, Trump’s margin of victory was about 113,000 votes. In Florida, however, an estimated 873,000 adults vape. If a flavor ban causes a significant number of vaping voters to turn against Trump in 2020, the President will probably not receive a second term.
It’s worth noting that the Republican party has a history of being more vape friendly than the Democratic party. However, many vapers have openly said that if Trump takes away their flavors, they’ll vote for whoever runs against him in 2020 regardless of their party affiliation. For those voters, the end of vape juice flavors is the end of vaping. Therefore, the opposing candidate’s view on vaping is irrelevant.
Other Ways to Combat Teen Vaping
It’s interesting to note that, while vaping is a worldwide phenomenon, the teen vaping epidemic doesn’t exist in most other nations as it does in the United States. Teen vaping has established a major foothold in the U.S., and that’s largely because of the JUUL e-cigarette, the marketing techniques used to sell JUUL and the extremely high addictiveness of JUUL’s vape juice. That “perfect storm” hasn’t occurred elsewhere because JUUL was slow to expand to other nations, and those nations are watching the company closely after what’s happened in the U.S.
There are actually several ways to prevent teens from acquiring vaping products – and to limit those products’ appeal to minors – while causing minimal disruption to businesses and without driving millions of adult vapers back to cigarettes. It’s likely that some of these options will be discussed during the President’s meeting with members of the vaping industry.
- The U.S. can remove vaping products from traditional retail outlets such as convenience stores and gas stations and limit the sale of those products to dedicated vape shops. Most smokers start while they’re still underage. If you’re a smoker or former smoker, you probably bought your first pack of cigarettes from a store such as a gas station where the employees didn’t bother to ask for your ID. Vape shops, on the other hand, are under much greater scrutiny and know that they absolutely must verify the customer’s age during every sale. Limiting the sales of vaping products to dedicated vape shops would make vaping products far more difficult for teens to obtain.
- The U.S. can limit nicotine in vaping products to less addictive levels. In Europe and the United Kingdom, for example, regulations limit the nicotine strength of e-liquid to 20 mg/ml. In the United States, however, products like JUUL have nicotine strengths as high as 50 mg/ml. Having a higher-nicotine e-liquid does make it easier for an adult to switch from smoking to vaping, but having a lower-nicotine e-liquid doesn’t make the switch impossible; just ask the millions of vapers in the U.K. who have already switched successfully. Meanwhile, the U.K. doesn’t have a teen vaping problem because a teen who tries an e-cigarette doesn’t get enough of a nicotine buzz to make the effort worthwhile. Kids in the U.S. who try vaping buy JUUL and get addicted.
- The U.S. can ban JUUL. The FDA regulates the vaping industry and has the power to determine which products are approved for sale. The makers of vaping products must apply to the FDA by May 2020 and make the case that their products are beneficial to public health. Pending approval of those applications, every vaping product on the market exists only because the FDA allows it to exist. The FDA has complete power to remove any product from the market and force the maker of that product to apply for approval immediately. Survey after survey has shown that underage vapers are almost universally JUUL users. Banning JUUL in the United States, therefore, is an immediate solution for underage vaping that doesn’t disrupt the rest of the industry.