Wednesday, October 08, 2014

New York City Council Considering Ban on Flavored Electronic Cigarettes

According to an article in the New York Daily News, New York City councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Queens) yesterday introduced legislation that would ban the sale of all flavored electronic cigarettes.

According to the article: "Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Queens) will introduce legislation Tuesday to ban the fruity flavors, saying they entice kids to start puffing on the devices. “These flavors are direct marketing to children,” Constantinides said. “They appeal to children, and we’re taking them out of that market.” ... “These guys are not in the quitting business. They’re in the addiction business,” Constantinides said."

The Rest of the Story

Actually, these "guys" are in the quitting business, not the addiction business. The overwhelming majority of electronic cigarette users are people who are already addicted to cigarette smoking. And the reason they are using these products is because they want to overcome their addiction to smoking. They want a safer product that can help them get off cigarettes, or at least to greatly reduce their cigarette consumption in order to protect their health. Very few never smokers are regular electronic cigarette users, and there is at present no evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes leads to nicotine or smoking addiction in anyone who was not already a tobacco user.

Banning the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes would be tantamount to a ban on virtually all electronic cigarettes. In reality, virtually every electronic cigarette product is flavored. Even the "tobacco" type of electronic cigarette is actually a flavored product, since flavorings are generally used to create that "tobacco" taste. Otherwise, the only ingredients in electronic cigarettes are nicotine, propylene glycol, and glycerin.

Councilman Constantinides' desire to take flavored electronic cigarettes off the market may be motivated by a legitimate desire to protect kids from addiction, but the reality is that his proposal would greatly increase smoking addiction in New York City by removing from the market a product that is helping thousands of New Yorkers to eliminate their smoking addiction or at least to greatly reduce the level of that addiction.

Jacob Sullum provides an excellent review of the literature on this topic, pointing out that there is very strong data to demonstrate that the flavors are what attract many smokers to try to quit using electronic cigarettes. You have to read his whole column, but to summarize:

"Whether or not they appeal to minors, the flavors that offend him appeal to adults who switch from smoking to vaping. In a survey conducted by E-Cigarette Forum last summer, three-quarters of adult vapers favored flavor categories other than tobacco, including fruit (31 percent), bakery/dessert (19 percent), and savory/spice (5 percent). Sales data from Palm Beach Vapors, a chain of 14 stores that sell vaping equipment and liquids to adults only, confirm that supposedly juvenile flavors are popular with adults. Last fiscal year, only two of the chain's top 19 sellers were tobacco flavors. They finished 18th and 19th, far below flavors such as strawberry, watermelon, and cinnamon."

Sullum concludes: "Critics like Constantinides and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-Va.), guided by little more than their own idiosyncratic tastes, want to decree which flavors adult vapers may consume, even at the cost of deterring smokers from quitting. "Studies show that e-cigarettes, particularly flavored kinds, are effective at helping smokers move away from combustible cigarettes," says Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. "The AVA supports common-sense regulation of its products, such as New York City's existing ban on [sales] to minors. But adults are free to make their own choices." For now."

Hopefully, the New York City Council will vote down this proposal. If policy makers are interested in protecting kids from electronic cigarettes, they should focus on regulating the sale and marketing of these products - just as we do with the real cigarettes. It makes no sense to ban the entire product category, especially when we know these products are helping many smokers quit or cut down and when there is no evidence that the use of these products is causing youth to become addicted to smoking, or even to e-cigarette use itself.

The saddest part of the story is that while Councilman Constantinides is so concerned about youth "addiction" that he is willing to ban electronic cigarettes, he expressed no similar desire to ban the real ones. That's not public health leadership. It's political cowardice, and hypocrisy.

Disclosure: I have not received any funding or compensation from the tobacco, electronic cigarette, or pharmaceutical industries. However, I am seeking funding from several electronic cigarette companies to conduct a behavioral study on the effects of electronic cigarettes on smoking behavior.

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