By now, we are all aware that the use of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products is running rampant in this country. A recent survey of one particular age group of electronic cigarette users (vapers) revealed that 85 percent prefer flavored e-cigarettes, including 74 percent who use fruit flavors and 66 percent who use dessert or pastry flavors. Nearly half (49 percent) of these vapers regularly used candy, chocolate or other sweet-flavored e-liquids.

If you think we’re talking about teenagers, think again. The study in question was a survey of adult vapers in the United States; specifically, adult ex-smokers who had quit successfully using e-cigarettes and who are currently relying upon these products to keep them from returning to cigarette smoking.

While there were nearly 16,000 of these former smokers in the study, national estimates suggest that there are at least 2.5 million adult vapers who rely upon e-cigarettes to keep themselves off highly addictive and deadly tobacco-burning cigarettes. And most of these former smokers are reliant upon flavored e-liquids, because the whole point of vaping is to get away from the taste of, and dependence on tobacco.

It is true, of course, that a worrisome proportion of youths are vaping, and most of them — like their adult counterparts — enjoy flavored, as opposed to tobacco-tasting, e-liquids.

But even more worrisome is that regulators in Massachusetts, California, New York and Washington, D.C., in an effort to address the problem of youth vaping, are prepared to throw the nation’s 2.5 million former smokers who rely upon e-cigarettes under the bus by severely restricting the sale of e-cigarettes. This is the definition of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The Board of Health in Somerville, Massachusetts has enacted, and the New York City Council and California legislature are considering, laws that would either restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes to adult-only stores or ban them completely. While eliminating or reducing access to flavored e-cigarettes may seem like a good idea to protect youth, what few policymakers are considering is that what they are actually doing is making it easier for youth to access real cigarettes than the fake ones.

Although these proposed laws would restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes, they leave entire shelves of non-menthol cigarettes unregulated and easily available. These are the very cigarettes that are the most prevalent among both youth and adult smokers.

These laws will result in thousands of ex-smokers returning to cigarette smoking because the e-cigarettes they rely upon are taken off the shelves, while tobacco cigarettes remain. The absurdity of these proposals is that they restrict the sale of e-cigarettes more severely than the sale of actual cigarettes, the ones that are killing more than 400,000 Americans each year. Why would regulators want to give a competitive advantage to cigarettes over the much safer alternative?

The actions of the Food and Drug Administration are even worse because it is restricting the sale of almost all electronic cigarettes to adult-only stores, but leaving tobacco cigarettes completely untouched. Why should it be easier for a youth to obtain a Marlboro than a cherry vape? And why make it so difficult for former smokers to buy vaping products that they are incentivized to resume smoking?

The irrationality of these rules becomes even more evident when you consider the effect of Somerville’s regulations. The Board of Health has decided that retail stores may not sell Newport cigarettes (which are almost all mentholated) but may continue to sell Marlboros (which are nearly all non-mentholated).

Public health laws, by definition, must have the effect of protecting the public’s health and saving lives — and they must not be arbitrary. These flavor ban laws will actually harm the public’s health, and they are arbitrary because they regulate cigarette brands differently with no valid health justification. They will make it harder for ex-smokers to choose a less harmful option.

While e-cigarettes may not be a perfect product, the research consistently shows that they are far safer than traditional cigarettes. And a clinical trial published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that vaping products are not only helping smokers quit, but they are twice as effective as the nicotine patch.

By creating barriers to a much healthier product, these laws will simply force former smokers to return to cigarette smoking. Lawmakers are doing a huge favor not for the public’s health, but for Marlboro, which is going to see a windfall in the ex-smoker market as all of its competition from vaping products and most of its competition from the No. 2 brand (Newport) is eliminated.

If policymakers really want to protect the public’s health and are sincere in wanting to reduce tobacco-related disease and nicotine addiction, then there is an option that is readily available: restrict the sale of all nicotine-containing products — electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes — to adult-only establishments. This would allow vaping products to compete with cigarettes on a level playing field, avoid the incentivization of former smokers to return to smoking, and protect youth from easy access to vaping products, all at the same time.