WASHINGTON (March 3, 2021)—Over the past few months, several states have been considering bans on flavored e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. The flurry of legislative activity comes in response to public health experts sounding the alarms about the health risks—like addiction and potential damage to brain development—of increased vaping among teens and young adults.

But on issues as complex as this, policy makers and community members considering such prohibitions must carefully weigh the potential public health consequences of such legislation, according to a new policy study by Stacey McKenna, PhD.

“A review of the research on e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools, the appeal of flavors and the impacts of other tobacco legislation suggests that flavor bans will likely have both public health benefits and negative consequences,” said McKenna. “Two potential consequences stand out: unintended harms to consumers through the disruption of smoking cessation efforts and the growth of counterfeit and contraband products; and harm to communities via lost funding for broader health resources.”

From the report: A limited number of studies have looked at consumers’ actual and presumptive responses to flavor bans. This small body of research suggests that while the policy could reduce vaping in general, it may drive some current e-cigarette users to resume or increase their use of combustible cigarettes and others to seek out their preferred e-cigarette flavors through illicit markets and hard-to-regulate online retailers. As such, both potential sets of behavior changes could tip the net public health impact of flavor bans toward harmful.

It is not yet clear exactly how the proposed bans on flavored e-cigarettes will play out. However, by extrapolating from the limited studies available as well as research on e-cigarettes and tobacco policy more generally, it appears that the outcomes will be mixed and complex.

Read the full study, “Banning Flavored E-Cigarettes Could Have Unintended Public Health Consequences,” here.