Testimony in Opposition to Flavor Bans for Vapor Products and Smokeless Tobacco in Vermont
Robert Melvin, Senior Manager, State Government Affairs for the Northeast Region, R Street Institute
R Street Testimony in Opposition to Flavor Bans for Vapor Products and Smokeless Tobacco in Vermont
May 3, 2023
Vermont House Committee on Human Services
Chairwoman Wood and members of the committee,
My name is Robert Melvin, and I am the senior manager of state government affairs for the Northeast region with the R Street Institute. The R Street Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas. Our efforts to promote tobacco harm reduction are why we have a particular interest in S 18.
The R Street Institute has long-standing concerns about the health-related consequences of inhaling combustible cigarettes and have been staunch advocates for limiting the sale of nicotine-related products to those whom are 21 years of age and older. We believe S 18—which would prohibit the sale of flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and vapes—would curtail positive movement to reduce consumption of combustible cigarettes by eliminating less harmful alternatives.
Abstinence is not a viable method to combat combustible tobacco use effectively, as evidenced by the 30 million adult smokers in the United States. Considering that ENDS do not burn tobacco, users of these products are not inhaling the 7,000 chemicals released in combustible cigarettes, including over 70 deadly carcinogens. Leading public health authorities including the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Royal College of Physicians; and Public Health England all recognize that nicotine products have some level of risk, but those hazards should be viewed on a spectrum. On the spectrum, non-combustible products like e-cigarettes, vapes, snus and chewing tobacco have the lowest level of risk, and products like combustible cigarettes carry the highest degree of risk. A more effective strategy would be to encourage adult combustible cigarette smokers to make the switch to a less harmful alternative.
An examination of e-cigarettes by Public Health England has concluded that “e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.” ENDS are a safe and effective alternative to help individuals attempting to stop smoking. This fact has led the United Kingdom’s National Health Service to endorse e-cigarettes as a practical means to encourage smoking cessation. Reports indicate that e-cigarettes are nearly twice as effective as traditional FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies—like the nicotine patch or gum—at helping individuals abstain from smoking, and result in larger declines in smoking than previously reported. Prescribing limits on adult smoker access to a wide variety of products that provide nicotine while minimizing the harm brought by combustion will be largely counterproductive.
While the intent for banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes is to prevent use by underage individuals, studies have found that adolescents do not start using vapes based on flavor availability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 55 percent of youth cited curiosity as the primary factor for using e-cigarettes, and only about 22 percent indicated that flavors were the reason.
Adult smokers attempting to quit, not minors, are the ones that would be most impacted by a ban of flavored nicotine products. Flavor variety is crucial for encouraging the cessation of combustible tobacco use. One study of over 4,500 former and current smokers who used ENDS found that 48.5 percent of former smokers specified that restricting flavor options would increase their cravings for cigarettes. Another 39 percent of participants stated that limiting flavors would deter them from quitting smoking. Another report found that 86.6 percent of individuals who were vaping to curtail cigarette use selected candy flavors and 86.2 percent chose fruit flavors.
Legislation that prohibits the ability of consumers to access flavored e-cigarettes will unwittingly result in the proliferation of perilous products in an illicit marketplace.  Further, the CDC has found that the vaping-related illnesses seen several years ago were solely attributed to illicit products home-engineered to include THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Moreover, when Massachusetts adopted a flavor ban in June 2020, it increased cross-border trade, with sales declining in Massachusetts, and growing by equal measure in surrounding states. We anticipate a similar outcome if Vermont enacts a flavor ban.
Finally, the proposal also permits public school boards to refer violations to law enforcement authorities. This is particularly problematic as increasing police interactions for juveniles has the potential to undermine their educational performance and increases the likelihood of potential lifelong consequences resulting from otherwise avoidable entanglement with the justice system at a young age.
The R Street Institute urges you to consider all facets of this as you review S 18. In Vermont, the rate of adults who smoke is 15.1 percent, and it imposes a cost of $348 million and 1,000 lives annually. Although we are proponents of curtailing combustible cigarette consumption, this bill will impede efforts to discourage smoking. Stripping adult consumers of important harm reduction tools like flavored e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco will do little to reduce underage use, and will contribute to the formation of an illegal market driven by cross-border sales. For these reasons, we ask you to oppose S 18.
Senior Manager, Government Affairs for the Northeast Region
R Street Institute
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