The War Against Tobacco Flavors Will Fail

Published February 7, 2019

Tobacco prohibitionists have objected to tobacco flavors for years.  As I noted nine years ago, “Unflavored smokeless tobacco products are unappealing to many smokers, so the success of tobacco harm reduction is vitally dependent on the availability of substitutes that are satisfying and flavorful. Anti-tobacco extremists know very well that satisfying and flavorful products are now on the American market, so they are using ANY tactic, regardless of its practical or scientific validity, to promote prohibition.” (here)

Lately, prohibitionists have turned their focus to vapor products, with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb threatening to ban e-cigarette flavors and menthol (here), while states (herehereherehere, and here), cities (here) and counties (here) pursue their own initiatives.  The flavor war could permanently affect the vapor market, but its unintended consequences could entirely undermine the bans, driving growth in aftermarket flavor production and sales.

Menthol cigarettes.  Although there is little scientific support for flavor regulation (here and here), Dr. Gottlieb believes menthol is “one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes” (here).  An FDA menthol ban would generate a robust aftermarket to meet the demand of affected smokers (here).  Scientists at the CDC, Battelle Laboratory and the University of Maryland have published easy-to-follow mentholation instructions (full article pdf here):

Crush about a pound of menthol crystals, place them in a stainless steel pan, then spread out 5 packs of cigarettes in a single layer on a 16 X 9 inch rack about 1.5 inches above the menthol.  Cover the apparatus in a large plastic bag and leave at room temperature for about three days.

Moist snuff/dip products.  Darcy “Mudjug” Compton and “Outlaw Dipper” Jared offer YouTube videos on adding Mountain Dew to moist snuff (here and here), and creating a Copenhagen “Hawaiian blend” (here). Another dipper demonstrates how to add food-grade essential oils to moist snuff (here).

E-cigarettes and vapor products.  A flavor ban would not affect vapers who make their own vaping liquids. This segment of the market is already large and will grow; a few examples can be found herehere and here.

A ban might cause the retail market to fracture into two parts: one selling unflavored nicotine liquids, and another selling flavors (google search here).  A high-tax jurisdiction like Chicago, where a prohibitively high per-milliliter tax is imposed on nicotine-containing liquids, provides a template for flavor bans.  Vape shops there sell 30 ml bottles of zero nicotine e-liquids (no tax) and small concentrated bottles of high-strength nicotine (5 ml or less) that are subject to the excise tax.  Flavor bans would simply encourage purchase of flavorless e-liquid and leave consumers to purchase flavors that are widely available in grocery stores and online, such as here and here.

It is worth noting that the only known death attributable to vapor products in the U.S. resulted from a young child ingesting pure nicotine (here), which is used by do-it-yourselfers to create e-liquids.  A flavor ban would likely increase the risk of such accidents.

In closing, imagine if during Prohibition alcohol opponents had banned flavors only; beer, wine and other flavored spirits would have been eliminated, leaving only pure alcohol on retail shelves.  That policy would have been an abject failure, as would any similar ban on tobacco.

Note: I would like to thank Brian Fojtik, former Senior Fellow with the Reason Foundation and currently President of Brownstone Communications, LLC, for his help with this post.

[Originally Published at Tobacco Truth]