Research & Commentary: Minnesota Flavor Ban Will Vaporize Harm Reduction, Won’t Impact Youth Tobacco and E-Cigarette Use

Published February 20, 2020

Like many lawmakers throughout the country, legislators in Minnesota are seeking to reduce youth e-cigarette use by banning the sale of flavors in e-cigarettes and all tobacco products. HF 3032 would ban the sale of “any tobacco, tobacco-related device, electronic nicotine delivery device … that imparts a taste or smell, other than the taste or smell of tobacco.” Banned flavors include, but are not limited to, “chocolate, cocoa, fruit, honey, menthol, mint, vanilla, wintergreen, or any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb, or spice.” Under the bill, flavored cigars and cigarettes would be banned as well.

Although the sponsor of the legislation points to a so-called “public health epidemic of injury in addition to addiction,” as the reasoning for the ban, it is imperative that lawmakers understand recent vaping-related lung injuries have been overwhelmingly linked to the use of vapor products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a fact that The Heartland Institute first pointed out in August 2019. Moreover, claims of a vaping epidemic among youth are overblown and exaggerated, and often, youth are not using e-cigarettes because of flavors.

In this Policy Tip Sheet, the Heartland Institute shows empty packaging of a popular THC vape brand on Amazon and eBay, as well as empty cartridges, which can be filled with any illicit substance. YouTube even offers videos on how to make THC oil that can be used in a vaping device. In December 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that 56 percent of patients with a vaping-related lung injury who had used THC cited using the same illicit THC vape brand.

As of December 30, 2019, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has reported 141 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-associated lung illnesses, including three deaths. The state’s first death was reported September 6, 2019, with the patient over the age of 65 years-old and had vaped “illicit THC products.” MDH reported the additional two deaths on October 16, 2019, noting both patients were over the age of 50 and one had vaped “illegal THC,” and the other was “believed to have vaped unknown products in addition to nicotine.” These illegal vaping products are rampant in the Gopher State. In September 2019, Minnesota police seized more than 75,000 illicit THC cartridges, worth an estimated $4 million. The suspect apparently sold the products using Snapchat.

Further, many Minnesota youth are not using vapor products. For example, according to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, in 2019, 83.7 percent of 9th graders and 73.6 percent of 11th graders reported not using a vaping device in the 30 days prior to the survey. Further, 77.6 percent and 64.8 percent of 9th and 11th grade students, respectively, reported having never used an e-cigarette or vaping device. Indeed, only 3.8 percent of 9th graders, and 9.8 percent of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes on at least 20 or more days in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Moreover, youth use of other tobacco products is at an all time low. For example, during the past 30 days, 96.9 and 94.7 percent of 9th and 11th grade students reported not using a combustible cigarette. Further, youth reported less use of other tobacco products including cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars, with 98.3 and 96.5 percent of 9th and 11th graders reporting not having used these types of tobacco products in the 30 days prior to the survey. Moreover, only 0.4 and 1.3 percent of 9th and 11th graders, respectively, reported using a menthol-flavored tobacco product all 30 days prior to the survey.

A ban on menthol cigarettes is unlikely to reduce youth combustible 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.”

Moreover, banning the sale of flavored vapor products would devastate a million-dollar industry in the Gopher State. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 1,152 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in Minnesota, which generated $44 million in wages alone. Moreover, the industry has created hundreds of secondary jobs in the Gopher State, bringing the total economic impact in 2018 to $336,366,200. In the same year, Minnesota received more than $20 million in state taxes attributable to the vaping industry. These figures do not include sales in convenience stores, which sell vapor products including disposables and prefilled cartridges. In 2016, average sales of these products eclipsed $2.6 million in Minnesota.

It’s disingenuous that Minnesota lawmakers would ban tobacco products while dedicating very little of existing tobacco monies on tobacco control programs. For example, in 2019, Minnesota received an estimated $703.6 million in tobacco settlement payments and taxes. In the same year, only $17.3 million in state funds, and 2 percent of what was received in tobacco monies, was dedicated to tobacco control. CDC recommends the state dedicate $52.9 million per year, or 7 percent of what Minnesota receives in tobacco monies. To further underscore the lack of adequate tobacco control funding, in 2018, tobacco companies spent $110 million in marketing tobacco products in Minnesota, or over six times what the state spent on tobacco control programs.

Rather than imposing bans that will vaporize tobacco harm reduction, Minnesota lawmakers should invest more of existing tobacco monies into tobacco control programs, including education and prevention. Although there is not an epidemic of Minnesota youth using e-cigarettes, a larger share of existing monies should be allocated to programs that can eliminate youth use of both vapor and tobacco products.

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

Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: Minnesota
Heartland State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud provides an analysis of the vaping industry in Minnesota, 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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