A number of policy makers - including several prominent U.S. senators - have called for a ban on e-cigarette flavorings in order to reduce their appeal to youth. Unfortunately, a new survey conducted among 10,000 adult vapers at E-Cigarette Forum suggests that such a ban would lead to a massive migration of adult vapers back to real, tobacco cigarettes.
The survey found that 74.4% of adult vapers most often use non-tobacco flavors, with the majority of these preferring fruit or dessert-related flavors. Only 22.9% prefer tobacco flavoring, and an additional 2.7% prefer tobacco flavoring combined with menthol. Fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic cigarettes represent approximately half of the market among the users surveyed.
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This survey has two major implications for public health regulation.
First, the results demonstrate that many adults - in fact the majority of them - do prefer flavored e-cigarettes. Thus, it cannot be assumed that just because an electronic cigarette company markets flavored products, it is intentionally trying to recruit youth users. This is a flaw that many anti-smoking advocates and groups have fallen into. Because the market appears to be dominated by flavored products, it does not logically follow that any company which is marketing flavored e-cigarettes is trying to attract kids to vaping.
Second, the results suggest that a ban on flavorings in e-cigarettes would have devastating consequences for the public's health. Specifically, it would likely cause a massive migration of vapers back to the severely toxic, real, tobacco cigarettes, and with that transition, all of the associated adverse health sequelae.
A further reason not to ban flavorings in e-cigarettes is that youth who experiment with these flavored products are almost certainly much less likely to progress to smoking. It is difficult to imagine a youth transitioning from a cherry e-cigarette to a Marlboro. In a sense, flavored e-cigarettes may actually be protective of youth transitioning from vaping to smoking. The tastes are so vastly different, and the e-cigarette use probably accustoms youth to a flavored taste that they are just not going to get with a real cigarette.
For all of these reasons, I believe that the current evidence does not support the FDA placing a ban on flavorings in electronic cigarettes. Such an action would, ironically, have devastating overall consequences for the public's health, both among youth and adults.