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FDA flavor ban will only increase Big Tobacco sales, says Yale Economist

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a call for public input regarding the potential dangers or benefits of flavored e-liquids used in vaping devices and e-cigs. Industry insiders estimate that there are currently over 7,000 different flavors of vape juice available on the market, and the FDA has the authority to ban one or all of them, if the agency so chooses.

The announcement of the 90-day probe was published on March 21 via the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM).  The FDA is taking both electronic and written submissions of comments and opinions regarding the pros and cons of flavored e-liquids and tobacco products. Anyone can participate.  Menthol varieties seem to be the most targeted flavors at the moment, but a series of television interviews featuring FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb indicates that all flavors may be subject to a national ban.

The Yale e-liquid study

A world-class economist currently teaching at Yale University, Dr. John Buckell, believes that should the FDA ban all flavored e-liquids, Big Tobacco will experience a massive windfall in increased sales.  Not only will more vapers likely relapse into smoking, but the rise in smoking-related death rates will escalate rather quickly, as well.    

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 500,000 people die from smoking every year with another 40,000 deaths are directly attributed to second-hand smoke.   Furthermore, Big Tobacco spends about $1 million every hour on the marketing of tobacco products worldwide.  That’s about $9 billion annually. 

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The rumor of a possible FDA flavor ban has been circulating since 2016.  Around this time, Buckell decided that he wanted to determine if such a ban would have either positive or negative effects on the U.S. economy.   His findings are published in a report entitled, Should Flavors be Banned in E-cigarettes? Evidence on Adult Smokers and Recent Quitters from a Discrete Choice Experiment (NBER).  This is one of the very few research papers by a scientist of such high caliber that focuses on the economic benefits of vaping.

Buckell began by soliciting the help of over 2,000 smokers and former smokers.  Participants were interviewed and questioned about the theoretical personal lifestyle changes that might occur due to a hypothetical e-liquid flavor ban by the FDA.  Below is a brief overview of his findings.

  • If the FDA were to ban only menthol cigarettes without banning menthol or other flavored e-liquids, Buckell estimates that Big Tobacco sales in the United States alone would plummet by an estimated 4.8 percent. (There are loads of research indicating that menthol flavors are more addictive than conventional tobacco flavors).  Another 1.3 percent would likely give up both smoking and vaping completely.
  • If the FDA were to ban menthol tobacco and menthol-flavored e-liquids while allowing all other flavors of vape juice to remain unregulated, Buckell predicts that Big Tobacco sales overall would rise by about 2.7 percent.
  • However, if the FDA were to ban both menthol tobacco and all flavored e-liquids at the same time, Buckell estimates that more than 8.3 percent of U.S. vapers would eventually relapse into smoking.

“We find that the recently denied FDA ban would result in increased choice of combustible cigarettes, the most harmful alternative. However, a ban on menthol in combustibles would result in the greatest reduction in smoking of combustibles.”

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