In Massachusetts, banning flavored tobacco products will have negative public health and law enforcement consequences
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.