If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans flavored e-liquids, Big Tobacco will be a clear winner in the War on Vaping, says Dr. John Buckell of Yale University. According to the world-class economist, not only will the sales of conventional tobacco products skyrocket, but perhaps millions of Americans will relapse back into smoking addiction. Meanwhile, the long-term consequences of an FDA-implemented flavor ban would likely include higher morbidity rates, increased mortality rates, and escalating associated healthcare costs.
Dr. Bucknell is a Postdoctoral Associate in Yale’s School of Public Health as well as a highly regarded economist. His vaping study entitled Should Flavors be Banned in E-cigarettes? Evidence on Adult Smokers and Recent Quitters from a Discrete Choice Experiment (NBER) is often considered revolutionary due to its focus on “money” rather than accusations of “teen smoking” and other baseless conspiracy theories against vaping.
Overview of the Yale vaping study by Dr. Bucknell
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half a billion smoking-related deaths occur every year. Another 40,000 deaths are directly attributed to second-hand smoke. Currently, Big Tobacco spends about $9 billion per year advertising its tobacco products which is about $1 million per hour! Clearly, the manufacturing and sales for combustible tobacco products is a very lucrative business. An FDA ban may make it even more profitable.
The American vaping industry is waiting with proverbial bated breath for the outcome of an 120-day FDA probe regarding flavored vaping and tobacco products. Anyone can submit comments to the probe via the Regulations.gov website, and the FDA seems to be particularly interested in dual usage.
According to the FDA press release announcing the probe, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wants to determine the number of active vapers who self-identify as dual users. He also wants to know how many vapers have given up combustible tobacco completely, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and snuff. While these types of questions may seem rudimentary, they also – coincidentally - seem to deal with the topic of money. The probe is specifically requesting "public input" regarding the following areas.
- How often do dual users use tobacco products?
- What types of tobacco products do these dual users purchase?
- How often do these vapers and dual users spend money on tobacco products?
- Before switching to vaping, what tobacco products did these now former-smokers purchase?
Rumors of the FDA probe began circulating as early as 2016, around the same time that the Yale economist got the idea to conduct his research study. The FDA had tried unsuccessfully in the past to implement a flavor ban, but it was only after the FDA decided to include menthol cigarettes and tobaccos into the proposed regulations that the notion of a flavor ban began to gain public support. This innocuous and rather sudden inclusion of menthol cigarettes seems to have intrigued Bucknell.
Dr. Bucknell began by soliciting the help of some 2,000 volunteers, some smokers, some vapers, and some former smokers. Each participant was asked to complete a series of detailed questionnaires focusing on personal lifestyles surrounding smoking, vaping, or both.
“We estimate preferences for flavors and other attributes and use these preferences to predict the demand for each cigarette type and for 'none of these.' We then predict the impact of alternative bans and compare results for the current treatment of flavors to results for the alternative bans. 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.”
According to Dr. Bucknell, there are about 7,000 different brands of flavored e-cigs currently on the market. His findings indicate that the FDA may be on the right track regarding a banning of menthol flavored tobacco products, but the public health agency is missing the mark by also targeting flavored e-liquids for the same federal ban.
- Bucknell’s data indicates that an FDA ban of all flavored e-liquids and tobacco products would result in an estimated 8.3 percent increase in tobacco sales nationwide.
- However, if the FDA only bans menthol-flavored e-liquids and tobacco products, national sales figures would only rise by an estimated 2.7 percent.
- For the best results, Bucknell’s report indicates that the FDA should only abolish menthol-flavored tobaccos and leave vaping e-liquids completely out of the equation. In doing so, the FDA would likely decrease national sales of tobacco products by a whopping 4.8 percent.
For vapers interested in responding to the FDA probe on flavored e-liquids, Bucknell’s study would be an excellent point of reference. Banning flavored e-liquids will essentially produce very negative consequences on public health while increasing the profitability and addiction rates of combustible tobacco products. Or perhaps, just perhaps, this was precisely the primary motivating factor behind this proposed vaping pan all along.