Sunday, November 03, 2019

I Expect FDA to Announce Flavor Ban This Week, But Vapers Save Mint and Menthol E-Cigarettes

Due to the outcry from the vaping community, it appears that mint and menthol will be excluded from a ban on flavored e-cigarettes that I expect the FDA to announce this week. I also do not expect menthol cigarettes to be included, since that would actually cause a decline in cigarette consumption (while a flavored e-cigarette ban will increase cigarette consumption, and therefore, federal government revenue). Moreover, it is easy to take a stand against the weak vaping industry but takes actual political courage to stand up to the large cigarette companies.

The only reason why I think mint and menthol will be excluded from the ban is that vapers have loudly made their voices heard, shared their experiences, and let politicians know that e-cigarettes have saved their lives and that they rely upon flavored e-liquids to stay off real tobacco cigarettes. This has apparently convinced the Trump administration that a more comprehensive flavor ban would alienate the vaping community and could give him problems in the 2020 election. The votes of the vaping community are widely acknowledged to have played a role in the close 2016 election victory of Senator Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

The Rest of the Story

While this would be a victory for public health, it would only be a small victory. There are still hundreds of flavored e-cigarettes that would have to be taken off the market, and the public health consequences of even this "watered down" flavor ban would be devastating.

The ban would still:
  1. Cause many ex-smokers to return to smoking;
  2. Deter many current smokers from trying to quit in the future;
  3. Create a new, unregulated black market for flavored e-liquids; and
  4. Create a shift in youth use of vaping products towards the use of black market THC oils (the precise ones that are causing the current outbreak of severe respiratory illness).
Allowing mint and menthol e-cigarettes to remain on the market is better than banning all flavors other than tobacco, but it is only marginally better.

Why is the FDA interested in creating an unregulated black market for e-liquids, rather than simply directly regulating the safety of these products. If the current outbreak teaches us anything, it is that when you have a large black market, you can expect much more dangerous products being consumed and if a dangerous product does enter the market, it becomes almost impossible to control its manufacture, distribution, and use.

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