Electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without tobacco or combustion, are the most important harm-reducing alternative to smoking ever developed, one that could prevent millions of premature deaths in the U.S. alone. Yet bureaucrats and politicians seem determined to negate that historic opportunity through regulations and taxes that threaten to cripple the industry.
The FDA approved one electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) in October 2007, seven years after it had first declared its intent to regulate them. The FDA has denied millions of applications for vaping products and seems to be hesitant about banning e-liquids that ex-smokers prefer. Why? They are also liked by teenagers.
FDA approved the marketing of R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company’s Vuse Solo device and two tobacco-flavored cartridges. According to the FDA, the company presented sufficient evidence to show that these products could benefit “addicted adult smokers” through “reducing their exposures to harmful chemicals.” The FDA also rejected 10 other Vuse Solo cartridges.
Three quarters (75%) of adults vapers choose flavors other then tobacco, according to data surveyed. But because those flavors also appeal to teenagers, the FDA says, they will be approved only if manufacturers present “robust,” “reliable,” and “product-specific” evidence that their benefits in helping smokers quit outweigh the risk that they will encourage underage vaping.
R.J. Reynolds, whose Vuse products account for nearly a third of the ENDS market, is a large company that had the resources to conduct the sort of expensive research demanded by the FDA. It was unable to overturn the FDA’s prejudice against flavor ENDS, which did not bode well either for manufacturers or consumers who appreciate variety.
Federal law requires that the FDA decides whether vaping products are “appropriate to protect public health” and takes into consideration “the risks as well as the benefits for all people.” Although this collectivist calculation is morally questionable and subjective, it suggests that FDA will weigh the health benefits of vaping products, as measured in the reduction of smoking-related deaths and diseases, and the potential risks and benefits to the public. However, FDA seems determined to refuse any ENDS on flavors that appeal to teenagers even though their main users are older adults.
Survey data indicate that the vast majority of teenagers who vape regularly are current or former smokers. That means the FDA’s fear that ENDS are causing an “epidemic” of adolescent nicotine addiction is overblown—especially since vaping by teenagers dropped substantially in 2019 and 2020, a development the agency prefers to ignore. Vaping may not be a major gateway for teens to try nicotine, but there are less reasons to believe so. If anything, recent trends suggest the availability of ENDS has accelerated the downward trend in adolescent smoking.
The folly of the obsession with preventing underage vaping was apparent in San Francisco, where a 2018 ban on flavored ENDS seems to have boosted smoking by teenagers and young adults. That cautionary example has not deterred other jurisdictions from considering the same counterproductive policy.
In case heavy-handed federal and local regulations are not enough to stop smokers from quitting, House Democrats have proposed excise taxes that would double or triple the retail price of e-liquids. Georgia owner of a vape shop said, “This tax won’t only kill my company,” Reason‘s Christian Britschgi. “It will kill Americans.”
A August American Journal of Public Health article, 15 prominent tobacco researchers warned that “policies intended to reduce adolescent vaping,” including flavor bans, “may also reduce adult smokers’ use of e-cigarettes in quit attempts.” They emphasized that “the potential lifesaving benefits of e-cigarettes for adult smokers deserve attention equal to the risks to youths.”
The article stated that there was “growing evidence” that smoking cessation can be promoted by vaping. Yet Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D–Ill.Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), wrote a bill he called “END ENDS Act” and insists that there is no proof vapes cause harm. [smokers] quit.” He claims that adults can choose what they wish, which is also a lie given his strict restrictions.
Although the FDA acknowledges the harm-reducing potential of ENDS, in practice it is giving that benefit short shrift. While the FDA acknowledges the potential to reduce harm from ENDS, other policymakers are treating smokers’ lives as irrelevant.