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The Leaflet: Lawmakers Should Embrace Tobacco Harm Reduction Devices

June 27, 2019

Rather than restricting access to electronic cigarettes with regulations, taxation, and even prohibition, lawmakers should embrace their use as an effective smoking cessation tool.

In response to fearmongering campaigns of a so-called “youth vaping epidemic,” lawmakers have introduced hundreds of proposals that would regulate, tax, or even prohibit the sale and use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

The Heartland Institute has long advocated against these misguided taxes and bans. Heartland has also been on the forefront of protecting the rights of adults who have quit using combustible tobacco cigarettes with the aid of e-cigarettes.

Since 2017, an estimated three million U.S. adults have used vaping devices to quit smoking combustible cigarettes. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded e-cigarettes are “twice as effective” as nicotine replacement therapy in helping smokers quit.

Heartland urges lawmakers to support policies that deter youth use of e-cigarettes. However, Heartland does not support policies that restricts access to adults.

Unfortunately, many proposals would severely restrict e-cigarette access and would have little, if any, effect on youth e-cigarette use. For example, some lawmakers have proposed to enact excise taxes on vaping devices to combat youth vaping, even though there is no evidence vaping taxes reduce or stop youth use of vaping devices.

In 2016, Pennsylvania enacted a 40 percent wholesale tax on vaping products. A Heartland Institute analysis on the effects of Pennsylvania’s wholesale tax on youth e-cigarette use found young Pennsylvanians in middle and high school actually increased their use of e-cigarettes in the period following the implementation of the tax. Notably, e-cigarette use among 10th and 12th graders increased from 20.4 and 27 percent, respectively, in 2015 to 21.9 and 29.3 percent in 2017.

Even worse, in their misguided attempt to improve public health, several states are considering banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes. According to a 2015 poll of more than 27,000 Americans aged 18 or older, 72 percent of respondents “credited tasty flavors [in e-cigarettes] with helping them give up tobacco.” A 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 U.S. adults found flavors play a significant role in the use of e-cigarettes. In fact, 83.2 and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively, “at least some of the time.”

Currently, two states “and over 200 localities have passed restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products.” Prohibiting flavors in vaping devices will undoubtedly lead to users returning to combustible cigarettes. Moreover, although there is concern that flavors are used to lure youth into using products, there is no “evidence that suggests children are drawn to tobacco products specifically because of flavor.”

Lawmakers should also note e-cigarettes could help relieve state budgets by reducing smoking-related health care costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates smoking costs the United States “more than $300 billion each year,” including $170 billion in direct medical care costs and $156 billion in lost productivity.

A 2015 State Budget Solutions Policy Analysis examined the effects of e-cigarettes on Medicaid spending. The author estimated if all Medicaid recipients who smoke tobacco cigarettes had switched to e-cigarettes in 2012, Medicaid costs would have been reduced by $48 billion.

E-cigarettes are effective tobacco harm reduction devices that have helped millions of American adults quit smoking combustible cigarettes. Rather than supporting legislation that would restrict access to adults, lawmakers should embrace these products and encourage their use.

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