Yesterday was a dream come true at the Massachusetts State House for Philip Morris USA - the nation's largest domestic cigarette manufacturer. The House voted to approve a bill that bans the sale of all e-cigarettes except those with tobacco flavoring, bans the sale of menthol cigarettes, and imposes a 75% excise tax on all e-cigarettes. According to an article in the Boston Globe, the aim of the legislation is "to protect young people from the harmful effects of tobacco."
The Rest of the Story
If the purpose of this legislation is to protect young people from the harmful effects of tobacco, then it is an utter failure. It makes it much easier for a youth in Massachusetts to get their hands on a Marlboro cigarette than a cherry vape. In addition, since proponents of the law argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking, there are now thousands of youth vapers in Massachusetts who would no longer be able to vape, so by the proponents' own reasoning, there is going to be a large increase in youth smoking in the state if this bill is enacted.
But that's not the worst of it.
If policy makers think that by banning flavored e-cigarettes they are going to put an end to youth vaping, they are deceiving themselves. Youth are not vaping because the products are flavored. They are vaping because vaping is now viewed as cool. The phenomenon that is cool is vaping, not the use of flavors. If flavored, nicotine-containing e-liquids are no longer available, youth are not simply going to stop vaping. What they are going to do is to change what they are vaping. And instead of vaping flavored nicotine e-liquids, they are going to shift towards the use of black market THC e-liquids. Those are precisely the products that are causing this terrible outbreak of severe respiratory failure.
In other words, what this legislation would do is to create a shift in youth vaping from the vaping of nicotine to the vaping of marijuana (and perhaps CBD as well). Youth who use drugs tend to use whatever is most available. Whatever e-liquids are being supplied by the school suppliers is what kids will vape. The overwhelming majority of youth vapers are not buying the e-liquids themselves from retail stores. They are purchasing them from friends, classmates, or school dealers who serve as the distribution channel for these products. Whatever e-liquids they have available are the e-liquids that kids will use. And if this law goes into effect, what the kids who are distributing these drugs will have available is THC carts instead of flavored nicotine-containing pods.
The damage doesn't end there.
If enacted, this ban is going to cause many ex-smokers to return to cigarette smoking. Ex-smokers who rely upon flavored e-liquids to stay off cigarettes are going to return to smoking in large numbers. The majority of those who don't will turn to black market e-liquids, and we all now understand the dangers of an unregulated black market. In addition, this legislation removes a major off-ramp for adult cigarette smokers who are trying to quit smoking.
In the short time that the emergency ban on the sale of e-cigarettes has been in place in Massachusetts, the state has already experienced significantly higher rates of cigarette consumption than would have occurred without the ban -- this is based on actual sales data, not self-reports of smoking behavior.
On top of all of this, the legislation imposes a whopping tax on electronic cigarettes, which essentially removes any incentive for smokers to switch to tobacco-flavored vapes, the only ones which will remain on the legal market.
So the end result of this legislation will be a significant increase in the level of cigarette consumption in Massachusetts. That's a victory for Big Tobacco. But not all the companies will benefit equally. Most sub-brands of Newport, Kool, and Salem are menthol-flavored, while most sub-brands of Marlboro are non-mentholated. What this legislation essentially does is ban the sale of Newport, Kool, and Salem while allowing the sale of Marlboro cigarettes to remain unfettered.
There is simply no public health justification for banning some brands of cigarettes, but leaving others on the market.
The big question this raises is this: If the legislature is willing to ban menthol cigarettes, then why isn't it willing to ban the sale of all cigarettes? There is no evidence that menthol cigarettes are any more dangerous than other cigarettes. Thus, there is ultimately no justification for singling them out and allowing other brands to reaming on the market to continue to kill thousands of Massachusetts residents each year.
This bill is a dream come true for Philip Morris USA because it essentially removes all of its major competition. First, the bill eliminates the overwhelming majority of the e-cigarette market in Massachusetts, so Philip Morris no longer has to worry about competition from much safer alternative products. Now all its competition will come from products that are equally deadly.
However, even many of those products are being removed from the market. The main competitors to Marlboro, such as Newport, Kool, and Salem are largely being removed from the market. Philip Morris couldn't have hoped for a more favorable piece of legislation had they written the bill themselves.