Research & Commentary: Oregon Flavor Ban Would Vaporize Tobacco Harm Reduction

Published February 3, 2020

Oregon lawmakers recently introduced two bills that would severely limit adult access to tobacco harm reduction options by banning the sales of flavored electronic cigarettes. Senate Bills 1559 and 1557 would both ban the sales of vaping products that have “been manufactured to impart a characterizing flavor.”

Like many misguided lawmakers throughout the country, Oregon legislators are responding to a so-called youth vaping epidemic. Although reducing youth e-cigarette use is laudable, policymakers should refrain from prohibitionist policies that haphazardly restrict adult access to tobacco harm reduction products.

Despite recent fearmongering, e-cigarettes and vapor products are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Numerous public health organizations, including Public Health England (PHE), Royal College of Physicians, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, American Cancer Society, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—have acknowledged there is a reduced harm associated with e-cigarettes and vaping devices, compared to traditional tobacco products. PHE even found the use of e-cigarettes to be an estimated “95% safer than smoking.”

Further, a 2019 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine noted that e-cigarettes and vaping devices are “twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy at helping smokers quit.” As of late 2018, an estimated three million American adults had quit smoking combustible cigarettes with the aid of vapor products.

Flavors are essential in helping smokers transition to tobacco harm reduction products, as well as maintaining their cessation from combustible cigarettes. In 2015, an online survey of more than 27,000 American adult vapers found that 72 percent of respondents “credit[ed] interesting flavors with helping them quit.” A 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 American adult vapers “found flavors play a vital role in the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.” Further, 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively, “at least some of the time.”

Lawmakers should also be aware that recent data indicate youth are not using e-cigarettes as often as claimed, and are not using such products because of flavors. For example, a January 2019 study in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, analyzed the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. The study’s authors found that 0.4 percent of American high school students reported vaping “regularly,” on at least 20 or more days in the 30 days prior to the survey.

These findings are similar for Oregon youth. For example, in 2019, only 4.4 percent of Oregon 11th graders reported daily e-cigarette use. Notably, 78.6 percent reported not using a vapor product in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The Heartland Institute recently analyzed several statewide youth vaping surveys to understand the role of flavors in youth e-cigarette use. In an analysis of five states, only 15.6 percent of high school students cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors. Overwhelmingly, youth are using vapor products because a friend and/or family member had used them.

Lawmakers should also refrain from prohibitionist policies in order to examine the effects of the federal flavor ban. On January 2, 2020, FDA issued final guidance that bans the sales of “flavored, cartridge-based [e-cigarette] products,” beginning February 6, 2020. The ban will stay in effect until the manufacturers are issued an approved premarket tobacco product application (PMTA). Other provisions include increased enforcement and penalties to companies marketing vapor products to individuals under age 21. Further, in May 2020, all e-cigarette manufacturers will be required to submit a PMTA in order to still market their products. FDA hopes that the new guidance will help reduce youth e-cigarette use, as young Americans are primarily using “certain flavored, cartridge-based” vapor products.

Lawmakers should also note that a flavor ban will wipe out the vapor industry in the Beaver State. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 963 direct vaping-related jobs in Oregon, which generated $28 million in wages alone. The total economic impact to Oregon was more than $215 million in 2018, including $9 million in state taxes. It is disingenuous that lawmakers would restrict access to tobacco harm reduction products while allocating so little in funding to help smokers quit. For example, in 2019, Oregon received an estimated $338.8 million in tobacco taxes and settlement payments, yet in the same year only dedicated $10 million, or 2 percent, on funding tobacco control programs, including education and prevention.

Oregon lawmakers should refrain from prohibitionist policies that restrict adult access to tobacco harm reduction products. Overwhelmingly, evidence is indicating that youth are using e-cigarettes for reasons other than flavors and their use is not as rampant as the leftist media decries. The vapor industry provided more than $215 million in economic impact to Oregon in 2018, and a flavor ban would greatly reduce the health benefits of e-cigarettes as well as the hundreds of jobs the industry provides for residents of the Beaver State.   

The following documents provide more information about e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction.

Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Oregon
Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud provides an analysis of the vaping industry in Oregon, including economic data, state health department findings on vaping-related lung illnesses, youth e-cigarette use, tobacco retail compliance checks, and state funding dedicated to tobacco control programs.

Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Flavor Bans
Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud provides an analysis on the role of flavors in vapor products. In the research, Heartland found that in examination of five states, only 15.6 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes because of flavors, compared to a survey of 70,000 American adult vapers, in which 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively. With nearly 80 percent of 2016 sales of e-liquids being flavored, a ban on flavored vapor products would cripple an industry that created more than $24 billion in total economic impact in 2018.

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 101details 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.

Research & Commentary: Largest Vaping Survey Finds Flavors Play Important Role in Tobacco Harm Reduction–commentary-largest-vaping-survey-finds-flavors-play-important-role-in-tobacco-harm-reduction
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines a survey of nearly 70,000 adult vapers in the United States. The survey was completed in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the role of flavors in tobacco products. The authors found nearly 95 percent of survey respondents were at one time smokers and the majority reported using flavors at the point of e-cigarette initiation. Stroud compares this to other surveys. She concludes, “eliminating flavors will force [vapers] to vape only tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, which would likely cause them to return to combustible cigarettes.” Stroud also found research has found e-cigarettes are a key tobacco harm reduction product and could help alleviate state budgets by mitigating health care costs.

Podcast Series: Voices of Vapers
In this weekly podcast series, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud talks with researchers, advocates, and policymakers about tobacco harm reduction and electronic cigarettes. The series provides important information about the thousands of entrepreneurs who have started small businesses thanks to THRs and the millions of adults that have used electronic cigarettes and vaping devices to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary 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, our Consumer Freedom Lounge, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.