LAKEVILLE, Minn. — There has been a significant amount of media attention to stories that suggest flavored-nicotine vapor products are driving an “epidemic” of youth initiation with electronic-cigarette products. All responsible retailers take this issue seriously.
As they always have, retailers across the country are taking reasonable and meaningful steps to ensure compliance with laws on legal age-of purchase in response to the heightened attention. However, lawmakers are unfortunately responding by proposing flavor bans at the local, state and federal level. These proposals would likely do little, if anything, to reduce youth use of products and would not only hurt retailers but could actually put some out of business.
There is no denying that youth experimentation with vapor products has increased in the past year. However, a closer look at the data raises more questions than answers. What we do know from government surveys is that an overwhelming number of underage youth acquire these products not from traditional retailers but from social sources—friends, family members and even strangers. The most recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Survey data shows that 85% of minors obtain electronic cigarettes through social sources.
Before legislating, lawmakers should understand that there is no scientific basis that proves flavors cause youth initiation or use of tobacco or nicotine products. It is also important to recognize that all vapor products—even tobacco and menthol products—are flavored. While the increased number of flavor bans seems to be in response to the attention flavored vapor products have received, lawmakers are introducing proposals that do not only restrict flavored vapor product but ban flavored smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipe tobacco.
Just as e-cigarettes provide a reduced-risk alternative to smoking, smokeless tobacco products are recognized by most informed experts as safer than combustible cigarettes. These kinds of products have been flavored for generations. We have not seen a dramatic spike in youth usage of these products, which is already low. Even so, that has not stopped lawmakers from including smokeless tobacco in their flavor bans.
The average age of a pipe tobacco consumer is 58 years old. Youth use of pipe tobacco is nearly nonexistent. Yet, that hasn’t stopped local and state legislators from seeking to ban flavored pipe tobacco too. And all pipe tobacco is flavored, so these bills could wipe out an entire product line and force tobacco specialty shops to close their doors.
NATO is tracking and engaging on almost 300 local flavor bans across the country and nearly a dozen bills at the state level that all ban flavored products, including e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco and menthol cigarettes. Product bans encourage illicit sales and simply do not work. Consumers simply seek out alternative sources for the products that they prefer to the detriment of law-abiding retailers.