The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a landmark flavored tobacco ban.
Despite the Trump administration wisely announcing its opposition to the bill, the “Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020” is a legislative proposal that will drastically harm an entire industry and its consumers.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) should reconsider his position on e-cigarettes by recognizing that a total ban could open a Pandora’s box that can’t be contained by policymaking. Under the bill, most flavored tobacco and recreational nicotine products would be banned. This includes menthol flavoring.
However well intentioned, Pallone’s bill nevertheless threatens the rights of all sorts of groups the bill is meant to help. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus voiced concern over how the bill would affect over-policed communities of color and could further embolden the failed war on drugs. Similar sentiments were expressed for mental health patients, veterans, the elderly and LGBTQ communities.
We must protect youth from nicotine uptake in any format. However, at what cost? An anti-tobacco bill harms people more than companies. Yes, we need to work to end smoking in our lifetimes. The only issue we differ on is the nature of how we view nicotine.
Though often cited by harm reduction advocates, the Public Health England designation that vaping is safer than smoking is a prominent standard for tobacco control policy in one of the United States’ closest and strongest allies. According to the U.K. government, e-cigarettes are considered 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes. As restricting flavors pushes adults back to smoking — as this bill would — many more consumers will die.
Despite the proposed protections in the Pallone bill, there is still a possibility that youth who use nicotine will be harmed. This is especially the case for teens who rationally choose to use a Puff Bar or a flavored Swisher Sweet. Instead of providing more tools for prosecutors and public health leaders to punish children and teens for making questionable choices, the focus of lawmakers should focus on the recovery, education and — most important — the respect to which youth are entitled.
Youth who use nicotine are still consumers. In tobacco use, adults who use tobacco are guaranteed a degree of consumer rights that ultimately should extend to youth. These rights include the choice of products, access reforms, and access to all information regarding the risks and benefits of nicotine. By supporting policies like this, youth are given the tools to be empowered to make rational decisions. Anything like the Pallone bill further denies the rights of youth.
Teens who smoke or use some sort of nicotine product are one of the most stigmatized groups, pushed by over-the-top marketing and information campaigns that depict death, youth using vapes, stereotypes, and tropes like the ones in 1936’s “Reefer Madness” or other exploitive films.
Senators preparing to hear this bill should consider the effect on consumers — specifically the overwhelming risks that overtake the benefits of a flavored tobacco and nicotine product prohibition. From a pure business standpoint, the bill would kill businesses of all sizes.
This also would further harm the rights of nicotine users from all walks of life.