Research & Commentary: Defining E-Cigarettes as Tobacco Products and Restricting Access Would Threaten Harm Reduction in Ohio

Published May 16, 2019

Language in Ohio’s 2020-2021 operating budget would classify e-cigarettes and vaping devices as tobacco products and increase the age to purchase all so-called tobacco products from 18 to 21. House Bill 133 would revise Ohio code and define “electronic smoking device[s]” as any device delivering “aerosolized or vaporized nicotine,” and includes “any component, part, or accessory of such a device.”

Unfortunately, Ohio legislators are kowtowing to a fearmongering campaign that youth vaping is a public health crisis of epic proportion. Although youth tobacco use has increased, there is little evidence raising the age to purchase e-cigarettes and vaping devices would actually reduce youth tobacco use. Moreover, the inclusion of e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products ignores the public health gains these tobacco harm reduction products provide to millions of adult smokers.

Although Tobacco-21 (T-21) legislation is relatively new, an analysis conducted by The Heartland Institute found youth use of vaping products increased in numerous state and localities after T-21 laws were implemented.

For example, Hawaii was the first state to increase the age to purchase tobacco products in 2016. Data from the 2015 and 2017 Hawaii Youth Tobacco Surveys found vaping among middle schoolers increased 77 percent from 2015 to 2017. E-cigarette use among Hawaiian high school students also increased, by 38 percent, over the same period.

Localities in Massachusetts began passing T-21 legislation in 2013. County-level data of localities with T-21 laws found increased e-cigarette use among youth, with a 37 percent increase among 10th graders from 2016 to 2018. Despite this, the Bay State passed a statewide T-21 law in 2018.

Aside from the T-21 issue, another disconcerting aspect of the Ohio proposal is the reclassification of e-cigarettes and vaping devices as tobacco products. E-cigarettes are tobacco harm reduction tools. Moreover, they have helped an estimated three million American adults quit smoking combustible cigarettes.

Numerous public health organizations find their use to be significantly less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. In 2015, Public Health England (PHE) found the use of e-cigarettes to be 95 percent safer than smoking. In 2018, after reexamining the evidence, PHE “reiterated its claim that “vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.”

Other public health organizations noting the reduced harm of e-cigarettes include the Royal College of Physicians, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Cancer Society.

In a strange case of irony, this proposal is included in the Ohio budget, despite the fact that the use of e-cigarettes reduces state expenditures. One study estimates annual savings would have amounted to $48 billion if all Medicaid recipients switched from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes in 2012. Another study of a smaller percentage of the same population switching found Medicaid savings would be “approximately $2.8 billion per 1 percent of enrollees” over the next 25 years.

Even worse, Ohio spends very little in tobacco moneys on programs to help smokers quit. In 2018 Ohio “received $1.332 billion in tobacco settlement payments and taxes.” Of this, only $12.5 million, or less than 1 percent, was dedicated to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Moreover, as a new technology, e-cigarettes have provided positive gains to state and local economies. One analysis found vape shops “generate annual non-online sales of more than $300,000 per store.” The industry is expected to grow substantially in the near future, with one market analysis finding the e-cigarette market “is estimated to reach $44,610.6 million by 2023.”

Rather than restricting access to e-cigarettes and vaping devices—as well as misdefining them as tobacco products—lawmakers should embrace this potentially life-saving technology. Aside from the fact that bans and age restrictions do not work, these products have helped millions of smokers quit and provide economic gains.

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

Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking
For decades, lawmakers and regulators have used taxes, bans, and burdensome regulations as part of their attempt to reduce the negative health effects of smoking. Recently, some have sought to extend those policies to electronic cigarettes. This booklet from The Heartland Institute urges policymakers to re-think that tax-and-regulate strategy. Policymakers should be mindful of the extensive research that supports tobacco harm reduction and understand bans, excessive regulations, and high taxes on e-cigarettes often encourage smokers to continue using more-harmful traditional cigarette products.

Popcorn Lung, Formaldehyde, and Now Seizures, Oh My!
In this opinion piece in Townhall, Lindsey Stroud, state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, responds to exaggerated and false claims of e-cigarettes. Despite fearmongering news stories, myths surrounding e-cigarettes containing formaldehyde and creating popcorn lung are unfounded, and the risk of seizures is minute. Stroud urges lawmakers to refrain from enacting egregious legislation in response to these claims.

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.

Research & Commentary: Vaping Taxes Do Not Deter Youth Use of E-Cigarettes–commentary-vaping-taxes-do-not-deter-youth-use-of-e-cigarettes
In this Research & Commentary, Lindsey Stroud, a state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, examines the effects of Pennsylvania’s 2016 40 percent wholesale tax on youth vaping. Using data from the Pennsylvania Annual Youth Survey, Stroud finds the tax did not curb youth e-cigarette use, and from 2015 to 2017, youth use of e-cigarettes increased in Pennsylvania. Stroud cautions lawmakers to avoid enacting taxes on e-cigarettes in an effort to address youth e-cigarette use.

Research & Commentary: Despite Scientific Evidence, More Americans Believe E-Cigarettes Are as Harmful as Tobacco Cigarettes–commentary-despite-scientific-evidence-more-americans-believe-e-cigarettes-are-as-harmful-as-tobacco-cigarettes
In this Research & Commentary, Lindsey Stroud, a state government relations director at The Heartland Institute, discusses a 2019 study that found the number of Americans who believe e-cigarettes are just as harmful as tobacco cigarettes has increased. Stroud says state legislation that regulates, taxes, and even prohibits e-cigarettes have helped to fuel Americans’ misperceptions and urge lawmakers to move forward with legislation that promotes the use of e-cigarettes as an important tobacco harm reduction tool.

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.

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 Lindsey Stroud, a state government relations manager at Heartland, at [email protected] or 757/354-8170.