As the e-cigarette “health outbreak” continues, some states believe the federal government hasn’t done enough and are now taking action into their own hands. Utah, for instance, recently introduced legislation looking to lower teen vaping by limiting flavors like menthol. Yet, recent research suggests that menthol is actually reducing, not increasing, smoking and that banning the flavor would lead to adverse effects.
As state governments consider banning flavors, they should exclude menthol from being outlawed, lest regulations go a step too far.
One of Utah’s new proposed legislations is a bill that would tax tobacco products 86 percent of the manufacturer’s sale price, almost doubling the cost at the register. On the other side of the country, Rhode Island is considering a bill that would put a limit on the nicotine level that would be allowed in e-cigarettes. As states continue to regulate vaping, they need to be cautious of another dangerous piece of legislation that would ban flavored e-cigarettes.
Over the last year, flavors were frequently mentioned as the prime reason kids were taking up vaping, with many advocating for a complete ban on all flavored e-cigarettes. Yet, as time progressed, the Centers for Disease Control found that teens primarily tried e-cigarettes out of curiosity. “Friend or family member used them (e-cigarette)” was the second most common reason with “flavors” coming in third. Despite this new evidence, states are convinced that if they ban flavors, including menthol, they will be able to stop teen vaping.
Menthol, which has largely gone unnoticed in the past year and even absent from the president’s ban on flavored e-cigarette pods, has now come into the spotlight. Concerned that menthol is attracting youth, just like fruity flavors were, states are now keen on banning the flavor. But as recent research suggests, banning menthol might be an excessive measure that would ultimately cause more harm than good.
A recent study from the Reason Foundation found a positive correlation between menthol cigarettes and lower levels of smoking among adult and youth populations. The report finds that “menthol smokers consume 48% fewer cigarettes than regular smokers.” This is great news to realistically reduce smoking among adults. But the benefits don’t stop there as the effect on children’s health would also be substantial. The report shows that “1% increase in adult smoking on average have a 2% higher rate of child smoking.”
While policymakers might agree that protecting youth health is a priority, every adult that quits smoking increases the chance for a kid to never start.
But it’s not just about ensuring that menthol cigarettes remain legal as a similar ban on e-cigarettes would be equally harmful. The report also highlights that an e-cigarette menthol ban would cause “many menthol smokers (to) switch to non-menthol cigarettes, especially in the absence of mint or menthol alternatives in the form of e-cigarettes of smokeless tobacco.” Indeed, if menthol is removed as an option from e-cigarettes, many would return to cigarettes, something that indirectly encourages more youth to take up smoking in the first place.
As states like Utah and Rhode Island continue to push their legislation, the recent influence from organizations like the American Lung Association to ban menthol might very well make things worse for smokers and vapers everywhere. As millions of Americans want to quit smoking, taking away menthol would force many people to return to the pack. It would also take away a desired flavor from the public, as well as increasing the rate of smoking among youth and adults. As states attempt to curb teen vaping, they should realize that banning menthol is no solution.