Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg announced recently that he would ban all flavored e-cigarettes if elected. However, research shows that such an impulsive response could keep cigarette smokers from switching to potentially safer alternatives.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned flavored e-cigarettes, but exempted tobacco and menthol flavors, as well as open-tank flavors typically found in vaping shops. Bloomberg’s proposal takes it one step further. He would ban these as well, while more strictly regulating nicotine content in cigarettes.
That announcement comes right in the wake of the release of a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper that shows the dangers of restricting access to e-cigarettes. The paper studies a Minnesota policy to tax e-cigarettes at 95 percent of their wholesale price.
The Minnesota study finds that the state’s e-cigarette tax had some concerning consequences. The authors estimate that more than 32,000 more adults continued smoking traditional cigarettes because of the tax — adults who would have transitioned to e-cigarettes and possibly quit entirely without the tax.
Should the entire country imitate Minnesota’s tax, the authors estimate that it would deter 1.8 million Americans from quitting cigarettes. If Congress taxed e-cigarettes the same as traditional cigarettes, as the House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill to do in October, it would deter 2.75 million Americans from quitting. In other words, tax policy alone could make it less likely that millions of Americans make choices that would improve their health.
And as the NBER study’s results reflect, vaping has proven to be an effective quitting method. Studies have found that e-cigarettes are twice as effective in helping cigarette smokers quit than other quitting methods.
That’s not to say that vaping or e-cigarettes are inherently “safe.” Bloomberg and the FDA are responding to the rash of vaping-related lung illnesses that has led to 56 deaths and hospitalized thousands more. But the vast majority of these cases arose from illegally-purchased, black-market THC products, not the products you see behind the convenience store counter.
On the other hand, 480,000 Americans die every year because of cigarette smoking, and 30 times more live with serious smoking-related illnesses. A smart, limited approach to regulation wouldn’t prevent access to a cigarette alternative which studies show is roughly 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes.
The safety of e-cigarettes and vaping products cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. It’s true that more studies are needed to get a better sense of the safety of e-cigarettes. However, researchers can say with strong confidence that they are safer than traditional cigarettes — and taking away alternatives and methods for quitting from cigarette smokers just makes it far more likely that they will stay with much more dangerous products.
So while it is always tempting for politicians to overreact to public health concerns surrounding vaping and e-cigarettes, it is more important that they keep the broader picture in mind. E-cigarettes are one of the most effective tools for quitting that the market has provided. Shutting American cigarette addicts out from accessing this tool because it is imperfect is beyond foolish.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.