Research & Commentary: Colorado Flavor Ban Disregards Tobacco Harm Reduction, Won’t Reduce Youth E-Cigarette Use

Published February 26, 2020

In an effort to curb youth e-cigarette use, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Colorado that would ban the sale of flavored nicotine products. House Bill 1319 would prohibit the sale of “flavored cigarettes, tobacco products, and nicotine products, including flavored electronic cigarettes.” The ban would apply to cigars, cigarettes, and vapor products.

One sponsor of the bill claims that a ban “will reduce the number of children and teenagers that become addicted to nicotine.” Although thwarting minors’ use of age restricted products is laudable, flavor bans are ineffective at stopping youth e-cigarette use and greatly restrict adult access to tobacco harm reduction products. Further, a flavor ban will have sweeping economic consequences to Colorado as it will effectively shut down a majority of vaping-related businesses in the Centennial State.

Lawmakers should be aware that the most recent data on Colorado youth e-cigarette use is from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The survey was conducted in 2019, but results are not currently available. In 2017, 27 percent of Colorado high school students reported using vapor products on at least one day in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Further, there is no data on frequent and/or daily use. Also, there is no data on reasons people use e-cigarette products. This is an important distinction as other states do provide information on the frequency of e-cigarette use among youth. In analyses by The Heartland Institute, less than 10 percent of youth are using e-cigarettes daily as indicated in Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, and Vermont.

Lawmakers should also understand that youth are not using vapor products because of flavors, but rather because of peer pressure and because their friends and/or family members have used these products. 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. A 2019 analysis of the National Youth Tobacco Survey reached similar conclusions, finding only 22.4 percent of middle and high school students said flavors are a reason for e-cigarette use, compared to 55.3 percent citing curiosity and 30.8 percent citing using an e-cigarette because a “friend or family member used them.”

Moreover, there is insufficient evidence that a flavor ban will actually reduce youth e-cigarette use. The Heartland Institute analyzed results from the 2017-18 California Youth Tobacco Survey (CYTS) and found that despite flavor restrictions in some localities, youth use of e-cigarettes in those areas increased after the bans went into place.

Santa Clara County, California, banned flavored tobacco product sales to age-restricted stores in 2014. Despite this, youth e-cigarette use increased while the ban was in effect. For example, in the 2015-16 CYTS, 7.5 percent of Santa Clara high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes. In the 2017-18 CYTS, this increased to 10.7 percent.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the proposal is that it would ban several other tobacco products that are meant to thwart youth e-cigarette use. Youth use of such products is at an all time low. According to the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 1997, 36.4 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey. Further, 9.3 percent and 22 percent of high school students reported using smokeless tobacco and cigars, respectively, in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Results from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey show a significant reduction in youth use of these products. In 2018, only 8.1 percent of high school students reported using tobacco cigarettes. Further, only 7.6 percent and 5.9 percent reported using cigars and smokeless tobacco products, respectively. Results from Colorado find that in 2017, only 7.2 percent of Colorado high school students had used combustible cigarettes in the 30 days prior the survey.

Moreover, there is no data indicating that menthol cigarettes lead to an increase in youth tobacco use. Analysts at the Reason Foundation examined youth tobacco rates and menthol cigarette sales. The authors of the 2020 report found that states “with more menthol cigarette consumption relative to all cigarettes have lower rates of child smoking.” Indeed, the only “predictive relationship” is between child and adult smoking rates, finding that “states with higher rates of adult use cause higher rates of youth use.”

Finally, lawmakers should utilize existing tobacco monies for programs that can reduce youth vaping, rather than eliminate the economic stimulus the vapor industry has provided for Colorado. For example, in 2018, the vaping industry created 2,821 direct vaping-related jobs in the Centennial State, generating $60 million in wages alone. The industry provided more than $412 million in economic activity in 2018, including $25 million in state taxes.

In 2019, Colorado received an estimated $286.3 million in tobacco monies generated by taxes and tobacco settlement payments. In the same year, Colorado dedicated $23.6 million, or 8 percent of what was received in tobacco monies, on tobacco control programs, including education and prevention. To put it in greater perspective, in 2018, tobacco companies spent $136 million in marketing tobacco products in Colorado, or five times what the state spent on tobacco control and education programs.

Rather than prohibitionist policies that are unlikely to reduce youth e-cigarette use, Colorado lawmakers should divert existing tobacco monies to tobacco control programs. Vapor products have emerged as tobacco harm reduction products and their use should be promoted, not banned.

The following articles provide more information on vapor products and tobacco harm reduction.

Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Colorado
Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud provides an analysis of the vaping industry in Colorado, 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.

Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Menthol Bans
Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud provides an analysis on the role of menthol in tobacco products. In this Policy Tip Sheet, Stroud notes that a menthol ban would eliminate more than $130 billion in revenue over the next 10 years and such bans would lead to larger black markets.

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.

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