Policy Studies Tobacco Harm Reduction

Bay Area flavored tobacco bans undermine harm reduction

The attached policy study was co-authored by R Street Western Region Director Steven Greenhut.

Proposals to ban flavored tobacco products – and, by extension, vaping liquids – have been spreading across the Bay Area like a cigarette-ignited wildfire. San Francisco, Oakland, Contra Costa County, Novato and San Leandro have recently passed or proposed some version of the individual flavor ban. The specific ordinances vary, but lawmakers in all of these jurisdictions have been giving short shrift to arguments about tobacco “harm reduction.”

Harm reduction is the idea that instead of promoting abstinence from certain dangerous or risky behaviors, officials should instead promote “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences” associated with them. Often, the concept is associated with drug use, but it can be applied to most behaviors that carry an inherent risk. Its aim is to help people in practical ways, rather than to focus on bans and arrests.

For example, the R Street Institute recommends that these localities eliminate e-cigarettes and other vapor products from the umbrella of tobacco products in their bans and recognize their potential as a much safer alternative to combustible cigarettes. Doing so would epitomize the harm-reduction approach.

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