Editorial counterpoint: A ban on flavored vapor, recently supported by Star Tribune's Editorial Board ("Stay strong on vape ban, Mr. President," Nov. 12), would leave adult smokers out in the cold and create myriad unintended consequences.
Smoking kills nearly 500,000 Americans each year, including more than 1,500 Minnesotans, and it is entirely preventable. It is also clear that we need to address the continued use of vapor products by our youth and restrict their access. And though the national illness outbreak has been attributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to illicit marijuana products, we must take the steps necessary to prevent more casualties.
A complete flavor ban not only would fail to appropriately address these issues, it will exacerbate them.
The last two Minnesota Adult Tobacco Surveys have shown that vapor is the primary choice for adults looking to quit smoking. Their choice is supported by recent studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February, which concluded that "E-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapy."
In the United Kingdom, vapor products are being recommended by doctors and smoking opponents as a better alternative to smoking for adults, supported by data that show they are 95% less harmful than smoking.
The recent outbreak of lung illnesses and deaths has stemmed from those seeking illicit THC cartridges. Flavors make up the majority of products used by adults, and a ban would only serve to create another black market of nicotine vapor products, risking an even larger outbreak from more unregulated products produced by unregistered manufacturers.
Vapor products have been on the market since 2009, offering a wide range of flavors. In the same period, youth smoking rates have dropped faster than ever before, according to CDC data. The rise in youth vaping is concerning and needs to be addressed. To that point, there are responsible steps we can take to curb youth access and still allow adults addicted to smoking to seek an alternative.
There are more than 15 million adult vapers in the U.S. The vast majority prefer nontobacco-flavored products. Approximately one-third of the U.S. vapor market consists of small-business independent vape shops that sell flavored products in a range of nicotine strengths — including options that have no nicotine at all — to meet the needs of many former smokers.
Conversely, the pod or cartridge-style systems typically found in convenience stores have as much as 10 times the nicotine found in a vapor-specific store. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted recently that "Data shows cartridge-based products are driving youth use. They can be removed from the market while open tanks are preserved for adults only."
An all-out flavor ban would remove the products on the market that have the lowest levels of nicotine, eliminating the option many adults have used to quit smoking. Many adults would return to smoking combustible cigarettes, a known killer. Mitch Zeller, head of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, has stated that "dramatically and precipitously reducing availability of these products could present a serious risk … ."
This policy would shutter all vapor-focused small businesses in the state and hand the entire market over to Big Tobacco and their subsidiary products.
To address the increase in youth vaping, we need a multipronged approach: Raise the age to purchase tobacco and vapor products to 21. Limit the sale of flavored vapor and tobacco to age-restricted retailers such as vapor, tobacco and liquor stores and require electronic age verification. Finally, the state should follow the United Kingdom's lead and restrict access to products with the highest nicotine concentrations.
These three easy steps would significantly reduce youth access to both flavored and higher nicotine products, while still allowing adult consumers to access vapor products. We should not simply turn our backs on the thousands of adults who have found a pathway from combustible tobacco.
Sue Sindt, of Maplewood, is president of the Midwest Vapor Coalition and owner of Simply Vapour.