Despite fearmongering from public health advocates and lawmakers, flavors are not the main driver of youth e-cigarette use in Vermont, according to the results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
More than 18,000 Vermont high school students participated in the biannual survey questionnaire conducted in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the results, in 2019, 50 percent of Vermont high school students reported ever using an electronic cigarette or vapor product. Only 26 percent reported having used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. Not many Vermont students are actually “addicted” to their vaping devices, as only 8 percent reported using a vapor product every day in the 30 days prior to the survey.
The YRBS also offers insight into the types of products used and the reason for e-cigarette use. For example, in 2019, 80 percent of Vermont high school students reported using a “JUUL/rechargeable pod” device, while only 8 percent reported using a larger, mod device commonly sold in vape shops. Overwhelmingly, youth are not using e-cigarettes because of flavors. Only 10 percent of current e-cigarette users cited flavors as a primary reason for using e-cigarettes, while 17 percent of Vermont high school students reported using e-cigarettes because their family and/or friends used them.
Lawmakers should also be aware that 52 percent of Vermont high schoolers under the age of 18 reported using a vapor product that they borrowed and/or was given to them. Only 3 percent of students under age 18 reported buying e-cigarettes online.
The results are significant as companion legislation has been introduced in the Vermont General Assembly that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-liquids. Although the sponsor claims that “flavors attract use by young people,” the results from Vermont’s 2019 YRBS indicate Vermont youth are not using e-cigarettes due to flavors.
The percentage of Vermont’s youth citing flavors as a reason for e-cigarette use is actually lower than in other states. The Heartland Institute recently analyzed several statewide youth vaping surveys to understand the role of flavors in youth e-cigarette use. In an analysis of five states, only 15.6 percent of high school students cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors. Overwhelmingly, youth are using vapor products because a friend and/or family member had used them.
Despite recent fearmongering, e-cigarettes and vapor products are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Numerous public health organizations, including Public Health England, Royal College of Physicians, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, American Cancer Society (ACS), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—have acknowledged there is a reduced harm associated with e-cigarettes and vaping devices, compared to traditional tobacco products. ACS notes that e-cigarettes comprise a reduced risk primarily because they “do not contain or burn tobacco.”
Flavors are an essential component in tobacco harm reduction. In 2015, an online survey of more than 27,000 American adult vapers found that 72 percent of respondents “credit[ed] interesting flavors with helping them quit.”A 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 American adult vapers “found flavors play a vital role in the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.” Further, 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively, “at least some of the time.”
Further, Vermont lawmakers should also refrain from prohibitionist policies in order to examine the effects of the federal flavor ban. On January 2, 2020, FDA issued final guidance that bans the sales of “flavored, cartridge-based [e-cigarette] products,” beginning February 6, 2020. The ban will stay in effect until the manufacturers are issued an approved premarket tobacco product application (PMTA). Other provisions include increased enforcement and penalties to companies marketing vapor products to individuals under age 21. The ban should help reduce Vermont youth e-cigarette use, as in 2019, 80 percent of current e-cigarette users cited using such products.
Moreover, a flavor ban would significantly stunt the Green Mountain State’s economy. According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 159 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in Vermont, which generated $5.4 million in wages alone, and created a total economic impact in 2018 of more than $34 million, including $7 million in state taxes. Should no bans be put in place, the tax revenue is only expected to increase, as Vermont passed a 92 percent tax on vapor products in 2019.
It is disingenuous that lawmakers would eradicate a tobacco harm reduction product while dedicating so little to help smokers quit. For example, in 2019, Vermont received an estimated $99.8 million in tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments, yet allocated only $3.8 million, or 3 percent, on funding tobacco control programs.
It is apparent that flavors are not the main driver of youth e-cigarette use, but are essential for adult former smokers. It is imperative that lawmakers refrain from prohibitionist policies that do not address the real reasons why youth use vapor products while simultaneously eradicating tobacco harm reduction options for adults.