Research & Commentary: Flavors Are Not Reason Vermont Youth Use E-Cigarettes

Published February 10, 2020

Despite fearmongering from public health advocates and lawmakers, flavors are not the main driver of youth e-cigarette use in Vermont, according to the results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

More than 18,000 Vermont high school students participated in the biannual survey questionnaire conducted in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the results, in 2019, 50 percent of Vermont high school students reported ever using an electronic cigarette or vapor product. Only 26 percent reported having used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. Not many Vermont students are actually “addicted” to their vaping devices, as only 8 percent reported using a vapor product every day in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The YRBS also offers insight into the types of products used and reason for e-cigarette use. For example, in 2019, 80 percent of Vermont high school students reported using a “JUUL/rechargeable pod” device, while only 8 percent reported using a larger, mod device commonly sold in vape shops. Overwhelmingly, youth are not using e-cigarettes because of flavors. Only 10 percent of current e-cigarette users cited flavors as a primary reason for using e-cigarettes, while 17 percent of Vermont high school students reported using e-cigarettes because their family and/or friends used them.

Lawmakers should also be aware that 52 percent of Vermont high schoolers under the age of 18 reported using a vapor product that they borrowed and/or was given to them. Only 3 percent of students under age 18 reported buying e-cigarettes online.

The results are significant as companion legislation has been introduced in the Vermont General Assembly that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-liquids. Although the sponsor claims that “flavors attract use by young people,” the results from Vermont’s 2019 YRBS indicate Vermont youth are not using e-cigarettes due to flavors.

The percentage of Vermont’s youth citing flavors as a reason for e-cigarette use is actually lower than other states.  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.

Despite recent fearmongering, e-cigarettes and vapor products are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Numerous public health organizations, including Public Health EnglandRoyal College of Physicians, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, American Cancer Society (ACS), 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. ACS notes that e-cigarettes comprise a reduced risk primarily because they “do not contain or burn tobacco.”

Flavors are an essential component in tobacco harm reduction. 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.”

Further, Vermont 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. The ban should help reduce Vermont youth e-cigarette use, as in 2019, 80 percent of current e-cigarette users cited using such products.

Moreover, a flavor ban would significantly stunt the Green Mountain State’s economy. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 159 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in Vermont, which generated $5.4 million in wages alone, and created a total economic impact in 2018 of more than $34 million, including $7 million in state taxes. Should no bans be put in place, the tax revenue is only expected to increase, as Vermont passed a 92 percent tax on vapor products in 2019.

It is disingenuous that lawmakers would eradicate a tobacco harm reduction product while dedicating so little to helping smokers quit. For example, in 2019, Vermont received an estimated $99.8 million in tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments, yet allocated only $3.8 million, or 3 percent, on funding tobacco control programs.

It is apparent that flavors are not the main driver of youth e-cigarette use, but are essential for adult former smokers. It is imperative that lawmakers refrain from prohibitionist policies that do not address the real reasons why youth use vapor products while simultaneously eradicating tobacco harm reduction options for adults.

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

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