Do Flavored Vape Bans Prevent Teen Use?
Flavor bans have gotten an agonizing amount of front-page coverage over the past couple of months. The talking heads are up in arms, shouting about how “Big Vape” is out to lure your children to the dark side with flavors and sacrifice them to the cloud god on shrines to nicotine. This fear-mongering tactic is being used to push bans on flavored vaping products, so it’s important to ask, “Will it work?”
Flavors Only Appeal to Children?
Vaping companies are often derided for making flavors that “appeal to children” in an attempt to hook them on nicotine. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Politicians love to tell us how much teens love mango and strawberry flavor, then add a soundbite about how they won’t allow another generation of young people to die because of a nicotine addiction. Maybe they’ll add a personal story for flavor of a parent whose child just can’t stop vaping, and then launch into their plan to ban flavored vapor products.
They deliberately neglect to mention that fruit, sweet, and dessert flavors are consistently the most popular flavors for adults as well. While flavors certainly play a role in teen vaping, they aren’t part of some elaborate, sinister scheme. Flavors exist for adults to enjoy nicotine without the taste of tobacco smoke, which most people who’ve managed to quit smoking agree is gross.
E-liquid manufacturers don’t make jelly donut flavor to entice children any more than Pinnacle makes Cinnabon-flavored vodka for that purpose. Both are created and sold for the enjoyment of adults, but flavors don’t discriminate by age.
We don’t develop new taste buds at 18 that only enjoy the taste of black coffee and taxes. Only the willfully ignorant would insist that only kids like flavors.
Why Do Teens Start Vaping?
I rarely see articles discussing WHY teens are going after vapes specifically. Flavors can be found in all kinds of sodas and candies for far lower cost than vaping, so why do they pursue it?
No one seems to ask young people how or why they went from a non-user of nicotine to a pod-a-day habit. I did, and I consistently hear the same answers.
Young people are abusing nicotine for a high. The higher the nicotine content, the more they want it. Teens are looking for a head rush that makes them feel dizzy, and nicotine is one of the most effective ways for them to achieve that goal, especially following the advent of salt nicotine and pod devices which are more easily concealed.
Teens and young adults also don’t recognize the addiction aspect they’ll likely have to contend with as a result of chasing that head rush. They think that only cigarettes carry the potential for addiction, or that it’s easy to just stop, or that it’s just a “phase”. We know better.
As we get older, we become more familiar with what it does to users’ lives and how it affects those around us. It’s something that’s hard to teach outside textbook definitions, so it makes sense they don’t truly understand it… until it happens to them. Even then, many take the addict’s mantra: “I can quit whenever I want to – I just don’t want to.” I heard those words from a 19-year-old yesterday morning.
Flavors aren’t the cause of teenage vaping, simply an added bonus. We saw Juul (the market-leading brand with teens) pull mango and fruit pods from the market; teen vaping rates didn’t drop. They switched to mint, a less desirable flavor, but doable. When mint pods were similarly removed, they switched to disposable brands.
Banning flavors won’t keep kids from using nicotine. It only encourages them to move to next way of getting it. That’s how addiction works.
Flavors Keep Smokers Switched
Here’s the thing – I really enjoy flavors. Blueberry and raspberry top my list of favorites. They’re one of the reasons that I switched to vaping from my pack-a-day Camel habit. If flavors are banned, that’s what I’ll return to and I desperately don’t want that for myself or my customers.
According to a 2018 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal, flavors may well be the key factor that gets smokers to switch completely from smoking cigarettes to vaping e-cigarettes. The authors have stated unequivocally that flavors play a role in keeping vapers from returning to being smokers.
The data suggest that U.S. vapers' journeys towards quitting smoking are increasingly likely to start with, progress to, or be sustained by frequent use of vaping devices containing non-tobacco flavors. – Dr. Christopher Russell, study author
Anyone who’s been to Charlotte Vapes understands that unlike some stores, we have a stringent ID-check policy to prevent youth access. Even so, tobacco remains one of our lowest-selling options when compared against non-tobacco flavors. There are adults that choose tobacco flavors, but not nearly in the numbers that customers flock to strawberry, raspberry, and honeydew vapor. People use flavors that they enjoy. If watermelon is the flavor that keeps you from smoking, as it is for many of my older customers, then you do you, Boo-Boo. We will fight to keep those flavors available.
How Do We Stop Teen Vaping?
Youth use is a complicated problem and warrants more discussion. However, knee-jerk reactions like the bans put in place in Massachusetts and Oregon don’t advance public health. They just turn vapers back to smokers.
Limiting the sales of flavored vaping products to establishments not known to slouch on ID checks would be a great start. Referring to FDA’s public data regarding fines issued in Charlotte over the last 18 months, 94.6% were to convenience and grocery stores. Fines are issued only after repeat offenses following warnings. Getting flavored nicotine products off these shelves would be a great place to start reducing youth access.
Some officials, including the President of the United States, are suggesting raising the buying age to 21. I might agree with that proposal, if not for the fact that grocery and convenience stores are regularly selling alcohol to minors, too. Changing the buying age has no benefit unless the stores selling the products actually check ID. For now, I can confidently say this will have no effect on teen use.
While we’re talking about where these products should be available, let’s get them off the internet as well. eBay and other websites without ID checks are among the most common sources for teens to obtain vapor products. Even for those that do have age verification, there’s little to prevent a minor with access to an adult’s ID from bypassing that system.
Another pitch gaining more attention is to limit nicotine content. Currently, the legal limit for nicotine in e-liquid is 66mg/mL, or 6.6%. The products at the highest end of this spectrum are those most frequently abused by teenagers. Lowering the nicotine content would make getting the head rush take longer and burn through more of the product, reducing its attractiveness to young people.
I don’t have all the answers, nor do I claim to, but there are far better solutions to the problem we have with minors vaping than the indiscriminate banning of all flavors that adults use to stay tobacco-free.
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