A looming ban on flavored vaping products in San Francisco will cut off access to healthier alternatives for smokers while “protecting cigarettes,” according to experts.
Voters in San Francisco need to reject Proposition E at the ballot box June 5, which bans the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products in the city, David Sweanor, a leading public health advocate from the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa, recently said.
Sweanor, who fought against the Big Tobacco companies in the 1990s, said legislation should not group products together that have vastly different risk profiles, noting regular vapers are predominately former smokers.
“From a public health standpoint, it would be very nice to see [the measure] divided, to look at different products,” Sweanor said during a recent interview on KGO-AM, according to Vaping.org. “The reality here is that what kills people is the smoke. It isn’t the nicotine, it isn’t even the tobacco, it’s the smoke. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the FDA, has been insistent that we need to move people down what he calls the continuum of risk.”
Tobacco’s impact on health is determined by the delivery method, which is combustion in the case of cigarettes. The vast majority of disease-causing chemicals — up to 95 percent — are only released when burning cigarettes, according to Public Health England.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products in the city in June 2017. However, officials were forced to return to the issue in September after a coalition of small businesses submitted a petition against the restriction with 33,941 signatures to the board.
Flavored vaping products are key to helping smokers dissociate with the taste of tobacco and ultimately quit, the ban’s critics noted.
“It makes sense to have flavors in the low-risk products as a door to helping smokers leaving cigarettes,” Sweanor added, according to Vaping.org. “If you decide that what you want to do is go after the entire category, you’re really protecting cigarettes … this is something that closes the door. Let’s keep in mind that half a million Americans die each year from cigarettes smoking … We really do need to inform consumers that there are huge differences in risk, the way Dr. Gottlieb has been saying. If you can reduce your risk by 95 percent or more, we should be encouraging that and not be putting up any road blocks.”
Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health and the Centre for Health Policy at the Imperial College in London published a study in September 2017 investigating the impact flavor restrictions may have on e-cigarette use. The scientists found that a ban on e-cigarette flavors in the U.S. would reduce the use of vaping devices by more than 10 percent, suggesting users would default back to more harmful cigarettes.
The adult smoking rate fell from 15.8 percent in 2016 to 14.1 percent over the first nine months of 2017, a significant decline many argue vapor products are accelerating.
Public health experts focused on harm reduction say the misinformed crusade against e-cigarettes in cities across the country risks undoing the gains made in reducing smoking prevalence in the U.S.
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