Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Rhode Island

Published January 9, 2020

Since their introduction to the U.S. market in 2007, e-cigarettes and vaping devices—tobacco harm reduction products that are 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes—have helped more than three million American adults quit smoking.

1. Economic Impact
According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 271 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in Rhode Island, which generated $8 million in wages alone.[1] Moreover, the industry has created hundreds of secondary jobs in the Ocean State, bringing the total economic impact in 2018 to $54,082,500. In the same year, Rhode Island received more than $18 million in state taxes attributable to the vaping industry. These figures do not include sales in convenience stores, which sell vapor products including disposables and prefilled cartridges. In 2016, sales of these products in Rhode Island eclipsed $2.2 million.[2]

2. State Health Department Data
As of October 3, 2019, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDH) has reported two cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, with individuals being between 18 and 35 years of age.[3] RIDH noted that the “latest findings from the investigation suggest that products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) play a role in the outbreak.” Although, RIDH notes that THC may play a role in the states’ lung illness outbreak, other state health departments are offering more detailed data on the number of patients using THC. The Heartland Institute gives RIDH a grade of C for information available on vaping-related lung illnesses.

3. More Information Needed
The most recent report on youth e-cigarette use in Rhode Island is from the 2019 Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey.[4] According to the results, in the 30 days prior to the survey, nearly 70 percent of high school students reported vaping 0 days. Only 7.3 percent of Rhode Island high school students reported vaping all 30 days prior to the survey. Further, high school students reporting e-cigarette use, 12.5 percent cited friends and family members for e-cigarette initiation, and only 4.5 percent of Rhode Island high school students reported flavors as a reason to use vape products. More data is needed to understand the effects of public health campaigns on youth e-cigarette use.  

4. Youth Sales Miniscule
From January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administered 1,952 tobacco age compliance inspections in Rhode Island, in which the agency used a minor in an attempt to purchase tobacco products.[5] Of those, 184, or 9 percent, resulted in a sale to a minor. Of the violations, 65 (35 percent of violations and 1 percent of all compliance checks) involved the sale of e-cigarettes or vaping devices. The number of violations involving sales of cigars and cigarettes were 55 and 64, respectively, during the same period.

5. Misspent Money
In 2019, Rhode Island received an estimated $195 million in tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments. In the same year, the state spent only $390,926, or less than 1 percent, on funding tobacco control programs, including education and prevention.[6] The lack of funding is notable in the state’s telephone quit line, of which Rhode Island invests only $1.00 per smoker, much lower than the national average of $2.21.

Policy Solution
Electronic cigarettes and vaping devices have proven to be tremendous tobacco harm reduction tools, helping many smokers transition away from combustible cigarettes. Despite recent fearmongering, their use is significantly safer than traditional cigarettes, as noted by numerous public health groups including the Royal College of Physicians,[7] Public Health England,[8] and the American Cancer Society.[9] Rather than restricting their use, and undoubtedly reducing public health gains and millions of dollars in economic output, lawmakers should dedicate existing tobacco funds on programs that actually reduce youth usage.


Key Points:
1. Rhode Island’s vaping industry provided more than $54 million in economic activity in 2018 while generating 271 direct vaping-related jobs. Sales of disposables and prefilled cartridges in Rhode Island exceeded $2.2 million in 2016.

2. As of October 3, RIDH has reported two vaping-related lung illnesses, including age ranges. RIDH notes the role of THC in the outbreak, but does not provide thorough data. RIDH earns a C for its reporting on vaping-related lung illnesses.

3. In 2019, 7.3 percent of Rhode Island high school students reported daily use of vapor products; nearly 70 percent reported not using e-cigarettes. Only 4.5 percent cited flavors as a reason for e-cigarette use.

4. Only 1 percent of FDA retail compliance checks in Rhode Island resulted in sales of e-cigarettes to minors from January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.

5. Rhode Island spends very little on tobacco prevention. In 2019, Rhode Island dedicated only $390,926 on tobacco control, or less than 1 percent of what the state received in tobacco settlement payments and taxes.




[1] Vapor Technology Association, “The Economic Impact of the Vapor Industry RHODE ISLAND,” 2019, https://vta.guerrillaeconomics.net/reports/8d469ccd-8cd7-49cc-811e-e54b50bc1762?.

[2] Teresa W. Wang et al., “National and State-Specific Unit Sales and Prices for Electronic Cigarettes, United States, 2012-2016,” Preventing Chronic Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 2, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2018/17_0555.htm.

[3] Rhode Island Department of Health, “Two Rhode Island Cases Added to National Investigation into Vaping and Lung Injury,” October 3, 2019, https://www.ri.gov/press/view/36841.

[4] Rhode Island Department of Health, “2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results, Rhode Island High School Survey,” 2019, https://health.ri.gov/materialbyothers/yrbs/2019HighSchoolDetailTables.pdf.  

[5] U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Compliance Check Inspections of Tobacco Product Retailers,” September 30, 2019, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/oce/inspections/oce_insp_searching.cfm.

[6] Truth Initiative, “Tobacco use in Rhode Island,” June 28, 2019, https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/smoking-region/tobacco-use-rhode-island-2019.

[7] Royal College of Physicians, Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction, April 2016, https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/nicotinewithout-smoke-tobacco-harm-reduction-0.

[8] A. McNeill et al., “Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018,” Public Health England, February 2018, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/684963/Evidence_review_of_e-cigarettes_and_heated_tobacco_products_2018.pdf.

[9] The American Cancer Society, “What Do We Know About E-Cigarettes?” June 19, 2019,  https://web.archive.org/web/20190806152535/https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/e-cigarettes.html.


For more information, please refer to:

Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: A Guidebook for Policymakers
This booklet from The Heartland Institute aims to inform key stakeholders on the much-needed information on the benefits of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Tobacco Harm Reduction 101 details the history of e-cigarettes, including regulatory actions on these products. The booklet also explains the role of nicotine, addresses tax policy and debunks many of the myths associated with e-cigarettes, including assertions about “popcorn lung,” formaldehyde, and the so-called youth vaping epidemic.



Nothing in this Policy Tip Sheet is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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