On March 21, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the launching of a new probe regarding the possible effects on public health of flavored e-liquids and tobacco products. The probe will last 90-days, and at this time the FDA is only asking for “public input.” However, at least one Yale economist is calling the possible vape ban a big win for Big Tobacco.
Dr. John Buckell has taken the time to conduct a quantitative research study to determine how a ban on flavored e-liquids and tobacco products will affect the national economy, either positively or negatively. The rumor of such a ban has been circulating for several months prior to the March announcement, and Bucknell’s study is one of the first of its kind. Entitled Should Flavors be Banned in E-cigarettes? Evidence on Adult Smokers and Recent Quitters from a Discrete Choice Experiment (NBER), the Bucknell research indicates that the ban would put another 2.7 percent of annual revenues into the coffers of Big Tobacco.
The primary target of the FDA probe seems to be focused currently on menthol flavors, but the possibility of a total flavor ban is still on the table. Advocates of a flavor ban often claim that the nearly 7,000 available e-liquid and tobacco flavors are too “kid appealing.” On the other side of the argument, vaping supporters boast that the extra flavors are essential for helping smokers to quit by switching to vaping.
However, the FDA does not officially recognize electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid. The FDA only currently considers e-cigs as a tobacco harm reduction too, at best, which only confuses the debate even further.
Summary of the Yale vaping study
Buckell began his research by asking a control group of over 2,000 current and former smokers to participate in a hypothetical survey. By asking a series of pointed-questions, he compiled their answers to attempt to scientifically predict how a flavor ban might affect their vaping and/or smoking habits.
“We find that the recently denied FDA ban would result in increased choice of combustible cigarettes, the most harmful alternative. However, a ban on menthol in combustibles would result in the greatest reduction in smoking of combustibles.”
What Buckell determined is that if the FDA were to ban only menthol varieties, Big Tobacco sales would drop by 4.8 percent on average. However, if the flavor ban expanded to include all flavors other than tobacco, Big Tobacco would receive an annual windfall of about 2.7 percent. Meanwhile, approximately 8.3 percent of the vaping community would likely revert back to smoking.