Vaping Regulation Threatens a Lifesaving Smoking Alternative

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.

Seven years after the Food and Drug Administration had declared that it would regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), one product was finally approved by the FDA in October. However, the FDA continues to reject applications for millions more vaping products. Why? They are also liked by teenagers.

FDA granted marketing authorization to R.J. Reynolds Vapor Companys Vuse Solo device along with two tobacco-flavored carts. The FDA stated that R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company had provided enough evidence to prove the product could “benefit addicted adult smokers by reducing their exposure. The FDA also rejected 10 other Vuse Solo cartridges.

Survey data shows that three quarters of adult vapers like flavors other than tobacco. 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. However, the FDA was not able to reverse its bias towards flavored ENDS. This is a problem for both other manufacturers and consumers who love 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.” This collectivist formula is highly subjective and morally ambiguous. However, it does suggest that FDA should weigh the risks and benefits of flavor e-liquids against any potential harms to vaping. The FDA appears determined to reject any ENDS for flavors popular with teenagers even though the majority of consumers are adult.

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’s vape shop owner said that the tax would not only destroy his business, but also make it more expensive. There are reasons‘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.”

This article summarized the “growing body of evidence” that vaping “can foster smoking cessation.” Yet Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D–Ill.He wrote a bill he called END ENDS Act. But Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois insists there’s no evidence vapes are harmful. [smokers] quit.” His belief that “adults can have what they like” is an equally absurd claim, given the strict restrictions he advocates.

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.