Recently, an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette cited opinions in favor of prohibiting flavored tobacco and vaping products in Massachusetts. The views expressed by those pushing for the ban are passion-fueled, yet largely incomplete. There is little good that can come from limiting the flavored product market. A flavor ban will not only deter current and future smokers from choosing a safer product, it will also strain law enforcement resources and cause greater racial disparity in the criminal justice system.
One does not have to stretch their imagination to see that these outcomes are in direct opposition to public health goals. Improvements in health that tobacco users experience when switching from vaping to smoking are well documented. Studies suggest that smokers who switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes have quick improvements in lung function and reduced exacerbation of COPD symptoms. E-cigarettes also help people quit smoking altogether with twice the success of other methods.
As with all prohibitions, an ill-conceived flavor ban will come at a cost of violence, an influx of dangerous substitutes, and a strain on law enforcement — all things we know to have ill effects on public health. Banning any in-demand product will inevitably create a black market for that product, and flavored tobacco and vaping products are no exception. Alcohol prohibition may have reduced drinking rates initially, but it also generated some of the deadliest organized crime syndicates in our nation’s history. Conversely, some research suggests that state laws repealing marijuana prohibition have actually reduced the violence associated with the black market.
Additionally, instituting a flavor ban would further criminalize communities of color. Over 88 percent of African-American smokers prefer menthols to unflavored cigarettes, and they comprise around 30 percent of the overall menthol market. If Massachusetts prohibits flavored products like menthols, racial disparity will seep its way deeper into our criminal laws.
Senate bill 1279 and companion House Bill 1902 would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts. In the interests of public health, effective law enforcement and racial equality, lawmakers and the citizens of Massachusetts should reconsider their current path.