Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: West Virginia

Published January 13, 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 717 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in West Virginia, which generated $15 million in wages alone.[1] Moreover, the industry has created hundreds of secondary jobs in the Mountain State, bringing the total economic impact in 2018 to $132,648,100. In the same year, West Virginia received more than $8 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 West Virginia eclipsed $4 million.[2]

2. State Health Department Data
As of December 5, 2019, the West Virginia Department Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH) has reported 10 cases of vaping-related lung illness.[3] According to WVBPH, the age of patients ranges from 20 to 51 years-old, and 80 percent of patients report using vapor products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The Heartland Institute gives WVBPH a grade of A for information available on vaping-related lung illnesses.

3. More Information Needed
The most recent report on youth e-cigarette use in West Virginia is from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.[4] According to the survey, in 2017, 2.5 percent of West Virginia high school students reported daily e-cigarette use and more than 85 percent reported not using e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey. 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 4,263 tobacco age compliance inspections in West Virginia, in which the agency used a minor in an attempt to purchase tobacco products.[5] Of those, 409, or 9 percent, resulted in a sale to a minor. Of the violations, 111 (27 percent of violations and 2 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 250 and 111, respectively, during the same period.

5. Misspent Money
In 2019, West Virginia received an estimated $238 million in tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments. In the same year, the state spent $0 on funding tobacco control programs, including education and prevention.[6] The lack of funding is most notable in the state’s telephone quit line, of which West Virginia invests only $1.04 per smoker, significantly 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 use.


Key Points:
1. West Virginia’s vaping industry provided more than $132 million in economic activity in 2018 while generating 717 direct vaping-related jobs. Sales of disposables and prefilled cartridges in West Virginia exceeded $4 million in 2016.

2. As of December 5, 2019, WVBPH has reported 10 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, noting that 80 percent of patients report vaping THC. WVBPH earns an A for its reporting on vaping-related lung illnesses.

3. In 2017, only 2.5 percent of West Virginia high school students reported daily vapor use. More data is needed.  

4. Only 2 percent of FDA retail compliance checks in West Virginia resulted in sales of e-cigarettes to minors from January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.

5. West Virginia spends very little on tobacco prevention. In 2019, West Virginia dedicated $0 on tobacco control, despite receiving $238 million in tobacco settlement payments and taxes.



[1] Vapor Technology Association, “The Economic Impact of the Vapor Industry WEST VIRGINIA,” 2019, https://vta.guerrillaeconomics.net/reports/5d12fa08-e1f8-4547-82ec-cd8a3e2cddd2?.

[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] West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, “Weekly Outbreak Update Summary,” Outbreak of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI),” December 5, 2019, https://oeps.wv.gov/vaping/pages/default.aspx. Accessed January 12, 2020.

[4] West Virginia Department of Education, “West Virginia High School Survey,” 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results, 2017, http://wvde.state.wv.us/healthyschools/documents/yrbs/2017/2017WVH%20Detail%20Tables.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 West Virginia,” June 28, 2019, https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/smoking-region/tobacco-use-west-virginia-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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