Research & Commentary: Illinois Proposes E-Cigarette Flavor Ban By Christina Herrin

Published April 22, 2021

Illinois Senate Democrats recently introduced Senate Bill 2282, which would ban flavored e-cigarettes. By introducing this bill, Illinois legislators have disregarded the fact that flavored e-cigarettes are a significant tool for tobacco harm reduction. In addition, a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes already exists. Why are legislators spending precious time on redundant policy, when the Prairie State has much more pressing issues?

Furthermore, there are ample health and economic reasons to keep flavored e-cigarettes on the market instead of implementing all out bans.

Without flavored e-cigarettes, adult smokers are more likely to revert back to combustible cigarettes. A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded banning flavors “would result in the increased choice of combustible cigarettes.” Indeed, the authors expect e-cigarette use to decrease by approximately 10 percent if flavors are permanently banned.

The economic cost of banning flavored e-cigarettes negatively impacts small businesses that are already struggling from COVID-19 lockdowns. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 87,581 direct-vaping related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs. In 2018, the industry generated more than $3.2 billion in wages alone. Not to mention, in 2016, 78 percent of e-liquid sales were flavored, and 69 percent of disposable vapor product sales were flavored and menthol products.


Fearmongering is a tool that legislators tend to use when debating e-cigarettes, even though banning flavors doesn’t actually decrease youth use. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that flavored e-cigarettes do not increase youth use but do significantly impact the odds of adults quitting smoking. Similarly, The Heartland Institute examined the effects of flavor bans, finding these measures to have no impact on youth e-cigarette use.

Make no mistake, Illinois legislators could address youth vaping use without resorting to an all-out arbitrary flavor ban. For instance, Cook County has one of the highest tobacco taxes in Illinois. Illinois received an estimated $1.0688 billion in tobacco tax revenue and settlement payments in 2019, yet the Land of Lincoln only “allocated $9.1 million [or 0.008 percent of tobacco moneys] in state funds to tobacco control programs” in the same year. Illinois’ spending on tobacco control is so minimal the Lung Foundation gave the state an F grade in 2019 for the state’s “tobacco prevention and cessation funding”—or lack thereof.

As we know, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Flavor bans are not immune to the laws of physics. For example, as with almost all things that are banned (illicit drugs being a primary example), black markets are inevitably created to fill the demand for the banned product.  

Moreover, Cook County, Illinois has implemented a Cigarette Tax Reward program, residents are able to submit tips to authorities about anyone who is avoiding cigarette taxes, including those who use unstamped or counterfeit packs. Tipsters are awarded up to $250 for each violator they report. Even though the county writes $4 million worth of tobacco citations every year, only 15 to 20 percent of them are actually paid. 

Even though the intention of this policy is to improve public health, it will almost assuredly have the opposite effect. Not only does banning tobacco harm reduction products such as e-cigarette flavors hurt adults attempting to quit smoking, but it also opens up the door for a thriving black market for said products. And as we learned a few years ago, flavored vaping products sold on the black market are much more dangerous than those offered in tobacco shops and convenience stores. Also, if legislators want to address the youth vaping epidemic, they ought to redirect tobacco tax revenues toward the problem and create a real solution, instead of restricting the market for products that adults should be able to consume. After all, we do not ban liquor for adults because a small percentage of youth illegally consume it.  

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

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.

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.

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.

Policy Tip Sheet: Vaping Hospitalizations Likely Linked to Black Markets
In this Policy Tip Sheet, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines recent headlines, finding vaping-related hospitalizations are likely linked to illegal black market vaping products. Stroud examines reports from January 2019 which found youth were being hospitalized due to marijuana vaping products. Further, in 2018, the U.S. Army warned of the dangers of vaping synthetic marijuana after more than 90 military personnel were hospitalized and two died after vaping such devices. Further, none of the reports on the recent hospitalizations have been able to identify a single product that would have caused adverse health effects.

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.

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