California bans e-cigarettes, flavored tobacco

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]

By Elizabeth Sheld
Real Clear Policy

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that bans the sale of flavored tobacco and flavored vaping cartridges in California retail outlets. This well-intentioned ban will unfortunately do more harm than good, as it will create black market health hazards, keep cigarette smokers hooked, and transfer jobs to online retailers out-of-state.

State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo sponsored SB 793, and said that youths who use tobacco are hooked by seductive flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy.

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“Menthol cigarettes, sweet cigars, candy vapes and other flavored tobacco products serve one purpose: to mask the harshness of tobacco and get users hooked to a dangerous lifelong addiction,” Hill said in a statement. E-cigarettes or “vapes” do not contain tobacco.

Although the flavored products will be banned in California stores, flavored items can still be purchased by California residents through the mail through online vendors. The price for retail outlets violating the law is steep at $250 a violation.

Other states that have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York along with a whopping 270 localities around the country.

There is no evidence that connects youth e-cigarette use with flavored products. A recent a study found that only 5 percent of teens say they vape because of the flavors. The flavor ban will probably not bring a drop in teen e-cigarette use to California but it will bring other problems.

First, banning flavored products will create a black-market industry for flavored e-cigarette products. Last year, the nation watched in horror as the U.S. was hit with an onslaught of high-profile lung injuries (EVALI) and deaths. Although flavored nicotine vaping was initially blamed for the crisis, investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the culprit was illicit black-market THC products. Black market items undergo no quality control and they are created with an intent to maximize profit by using cheap, readily available ingredients obtained from unknown sources. They are created in conditions that do not meet standard sanitary lab conditions, increasing the likelihood their product will be contaminated. Flavor users will have no idea what is in these black-market products and we could very well see another wave of lung injury and deaths as people turn to the streets to buy their flavored e-cigarette cartridges.

Second, adults who use flavored e-cigarettes to avoid combustible tobacco could be driven back to smoking. While bad publicity surrounding vaping has already driven people back to cigarettes, forcing adult users to purchase online flavored products is inconvenient. Online ordering is especially inconvenient when a consumer is looking to meet an immediate need. It will be much easier to purchase combustible cigarettes which remain readily available. A return to smoking does not help the health and associated health care costs of former smokers who are currently abstaining or for current smokers who need an effective tool to quit.

Finally, it hurts California’s business industry. Retail outlets hurting from coronavirus closures will take another hit to their revenue. Stores that sell flavored products will lose money when flavor consumers cannot buy local store products but can buy the same item from an online vendor. California’s standalone vape stores will be forced to close as they will lose a significant portion of their inventory and store closures mean employees lose their jobs and owners lose their livelihood.

“As California’s economy continues to face COVID-related challenges, the last thing its state leaders should be doing is driving people back to cigarettes, shuttering small businesses and slashing jobs,” Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association said.

California’s flavor ban may help fill the state’s tax revenue coffers by forcing vapers back to cigarettes, but it will not keep teens away from e-cigarettes as they will simply use unflavored products or turn to unregulated black-market items. Adult vapers, who are dependent on flavors to avoid carcinogenic combustible cigarettes, just have another obstacle in their path of harm reduction with this latest ban in California.

Elizabeth Sheld is the senior news editor at American Greatness and author of the “Morning Greatness” news update. She is a veteran political strategist and pollster who has worked on campaigns and public interest affairs. Liz has written at Breitbart and The Federalist, as well as at PJ Media, where she wrote “The Morning Briefing.” In her spare time, she shoots sporting clays and watches documentaries. Elizabeth quit smoking with Cuttwood Vapor’s Unicorn Milk.

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]

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