Washington DC (June 11) – This past March, the Food and Drug administration (FDA) announced a consultation on proposed rule-making about the use of flavors in tobacco products. The initiative is driven by the FDA’s belief that flavors make tobacco products attractive to young people and thus increase initiation and consumption, which causes harm. Included in this proposed rule-making are non-combustible tobacco/nicotine products.

In a new policy paper, R Street senior fellow and harm reduction policy director Carrie Wade and director of Counterfactual, Clive Bates examine and explain the flaws in the FDA’s reasoning. In addition, they outline the challenges the agency will face to show that any proposed rule directed at flavors in non-combustible tobacco/nicotine products is “appropriate for the protection of public health,” as required by the Tobacco Control Act.

The paper argues that e-cigarettes are actually a significant public health win and that responsible regulation will encourage people to switch to these much safer products. However, ill-conceived rule-making designed to reduce the attractiveness of alternatives to smoking has its own harmful impacts—on both young people and adults. In light of this, as it considers draft rules that will regulate tobacco flavors, the FDA must carefully consider all the possible benefits and harms, including those that may be induced by any rule.

The authors conclude that there may be a case to prohibit flavors in some combustible tobacco products where it can be shown they promote smoking initiation or a pathway to regular use in young people. But the same case cannot be made for non-combustible tobacco products. In fact, the authors add, “[w]here vaping displaces smoking, there is a benefit to health and this can apply to both adults and adolescents.”