Vaping Encourages Smoking Cessation — So Let's Kill the Vaping Industry?

The evidence clearly shows that vaping helps many smokers quit cigarettes. Naturally, federal regulators and state legislators are trying to kill the e-cigarette industry.

Regulators and policymakers are on the warpath against vaping. Last fall, the FDA effectively banned millions of the most popular e-cigarette devices and nicotine liquids ex-smokers use in place of combustible tobacco. The agency's decision was poised to wipe out a major portion of the e-cigarette industry. So instead of going out of business, some vaping companies evaded the agency's decision by using synthetic nicotine in their products. The FDA at the time only had the authority to regulate products derived from tobacco, including nicotine.

Congress closed this loophole in early March by empowering the FDA to regulate synthetic nicotine as well, which means e-cigarette users (vapers) will likely have far fewer product choices moving forward, almost all of them sold by giant tobacco companies.

However, many policymakers who want to “look tough” on tobacco still aren't happy. For example, New York state assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal is beside herself because the FDA is allowing any flavored vaping products to remain on the market. She's now urging other states to ban these few, literally three as of last week, remaining options. As she wrote in a recent Connecticut Post op-ed:

"Connecticut should follow the lead of Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island; these states did not include loopholes or exemptions in their legislation. Compromises like the one being proposed by Big Tobacco in Connecticut will allow lawmakers to walk away from the issue …"

Like most tobacco controllers, her argument comes down to protecting children—a laudable goal, to be sure, but not a sufficient reason to ban flavored vaping products. Let's dissect her key claims. Perhaps some of the voters who put her in office will find their way to this article.

E-cigarettes are the tobacco product most commonly used by youths, and eight of 10 youths who have ever used a tobacco product started with a flavored product.

Our state legislator deserves a trophy for her expert-level sleight of hand here. “Ever used” isn't a helpful metric because it obscures our tremendous progress in cutting teen smoking. As of 2021, that figure is less than two percent, a roughly 90 percent decline since 2010. That leads us to another crucial observation: teenagers rarely use e-cigarettes. Just three percent of high-school students vape regularly, and, crucially, the vast majority are former smokers. But even teen vaping has significantly declined in the last year (by 42 percent), meaning that Rosenthal is warning us about a problem that is rapidly resolving itself. 

Flavored vapes are vital

But relevant numbers be damned, because flavored vapes are obviously designed to hook kids, right?

One argument for e-cigarettes is that they are likely less harmful than combustible cigarettes and they may help some adult smokers quit those. I don’t know what Papa Smurf vape juice tastes like (yes — that’s a real product), but I do know that Big Tobacco didn’t design Papa Smurf vape juice to help adults quit. They did it to hook kids and guarantee future customers. Big Tobacco always plays the long game.

There is no denying that vaping helps many smokers give up combustible cigarettes; anybody with a functioning brain and pair of eyes can find the evidence in support of this conclusion. One especially important result leaps out of this research: access to many flavors encourages smokers to stick with vaping long enough to abandon tobacco. This is partly because smoking can dull your sense of taste, while cessation can rapidly restore taste sensitivity.

Many new adult vapers will find fruit- and dessert-flavored products very appealing as they begin to smoke fewer cigarettes. From a public health perspective, it would be wise to let these people vape any flavored product they can legally purchase because it will discourage them from going back to smoking.

ACSH agrees that marketing any nicotine-containing products to children is unacceptable, and the penalties for doing so are justifiably severe. That said, the mere existence of flavorful e-liquids isn't proof that vaping companies target kids, any more than fruit-flavored alcohol is proof that Budweiser plays “the long game” against teenagers.

Thank you for smoking

As the evidence in support of vaping as a quit-smoking aid grows, so do the rules restricting access to e-cigarettes. The regulatory landscape here makes absolutely no sense. I would never accuse public health agencies and legislators of intentionally encouraging smokers to keep buying cigarettes, but this is the fatal outcome Rosenthal and her colleagues are incentivizing with their campaign against vaping.

We finally have a viable smoking-cessation tool at our disposal. Instead of celebrating this public health breakthrough, policymakers are trying to quash it.