The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently made headlines with its marketing approval of four flavored oral tobacco products manufactured by Verve. While those products had been discontinued before the announcement, the FDA’s decision reaffirmed that flavored tobacco and nicotine products can help people transition away from using more harmful products like combustible cigarettes. It will hopefully discourage policymakers from pursuing flavor bans for tobacco harm reduction products that provide smokers with alternatives that can help them quit smoking for good.
Before approving the oral tobacco products, the FDA completed a comprehensive review of scientific evidence, which showed these products were “appropriate for the protection of the public health.” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, explained “evidence shows these products could help addicted smokers who use the most harmful combusted products completely switch to a product with potentially fewer harmful chemicals.” And transitioning smokers away from combustible cigarettes will result in better health care outcomes.
Unfortunately, states and localities continue to utilize flavor bans as a weapon to reduce tobacco use. And while tobacco flavor is often an exception to these flavor bans, surveys have shown that current smokers looking to quit cigarettes prefer flavored tobacco and nicotine products.
For example, a 2020 study found a correlation between non-tobacco flavors and smoking cessation for adults, while also concluding that youth vaping uptake saw no significant difference between non-tobacco and tobacco-flavored products. Additionally, the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco also published a study this year highlighting that “sweet” flavors such as candy or fruit-flavored nicotine products were more likely than any other flavor to help people transition away from smoking. At NicoKick, our 2020 consumer data showed that among those who regularly used nicotine pouches, 59 percent were smokers who have quit, and fruity flavored products were the most popular choice for former smokers.
These flavored tobacco and nicotine products, which are scientifically shown to help transition smokers away from combustible cigarettes, are the same ones being targeted by new flavor bans across the country. So far, over 100 U.S. jurisdictions have banned flavored tobacco products, including Chicago, Los Angeles County, Minneapolis, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco. And more cities are expected to pass flavor bans in the coming years, with one being debated in Denver right now.
Tobacco flavor bans are ostensibly aimed at reducing youth usage, but the FDA’s approval of the four variations of mint flavors for oral nicotine products reaffirms how these flavors can entice adult smokers without encouraging increased youth usage according to the data. So banning these flavors takes away a critical off-ramp for adult smokers, with little impact on youth usage rates.
If policymakers want to improve public health and reduce the overall number of smokers, they must acknowledge, like the FDA has, that tobacco harm reduction products are a healthier alternative to help Americans quit smoking. The evidence has been clear for years that these products are better for consumers than traditional cigarettes, and flavored tobacco and nicotine products play an important role in providing smokers a stepping stone to quit cigarettes for good. Elected officials should not impose arbitrary flavor bans that make it more likely that smokers keep smoking, which is an outcome that no public health official would support.