On February 21, 2023

Vermont state lawmakers ought to wait on latest data before moving forward with prohibition

By Lindsey Stroud

Editor’s note: Lindsey Stroud is director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center.

Another legislative session and another bill has been introduced that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products in Vermont. This isn’t the first time the Vermont Legislature has attempted to restrict adult access to tobacco and safer alternatives to smoking. Legislation has been introduced in both chambers since at least 2020.

This year’s persistence comes amid delayed data on youth tobacco and vapor product use in Vermont. Nationally, youth vaping has halved since 2019 and youth use of traditional tobacco products reached record lows. Lawmakers must refrain from imposing restrictions on adult choices that would only lead to another illicit market and decreased tax revenue in another New England state.

In 2021, according to the Vermont Department of Health’s website page in January 2022, state data from the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was supposed to be published in the early fall of that year. Between January and November, the website page was updated, stating that the statewide report would be “available late 2022/early 2023,” according to a page viewed in November. As of mid-January 2023, the page has been further updated and the statewide report will not be available until March, “[d]ue to delays at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”

This year’s flavor ban is being pushed, once again by Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden County), who introduced similar legislation in 2020 and 2021. Commenting on previous efforts in a summer 2022 news article, Lyons remarked that the there was “some misunderstanding about the value of flavors for people trying to quit … really got in the way of the bill moving forwards.”

Senator Lyons is correct that there is misunderstanding about the role in flavors for adults who smoke and the youth who experiment and/or use these products.

In Vermont, according to data from the 2019 YRBS, among high school students that were currently using vapor products, 51% cited using them for some other reason, 17% cited use because a friend and/or family member used them, and only 10% of youth in the that were currently vaping in 2019 reported using them because they were available in flavors. 

This is similar to more recent national data. In 2021, among all U.S. middle and high school students that were currently using vapor products, 43.2% cited using them because they were feeling “anxious, stressed, or depressed,” compared to only 13.2% who had cited currently using e-cigarettes because they came in flavors. Even among kids who had just tried e-cigarettes, 60.6% cited trying them because a friend had, compared to 13.4% who had tried them because of flavors.

Comparatively, numerous studies and surveys of adult e-cigarette consumers find that flavors play a vital role in both attracting adults who smoke to safer alternatives, as well as helping to maintain cessation. A 2020 cohort study of nearly 18,000 participants found that “adults who began vaping non tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes were more likely to quit smoking than those who vaped tobacco flavors.” In a 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 American adult vapers, 83.2% and 72.3% reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively.

Further, statewide flavor bans have led to increases in young adult smoking, reductions in state excise tax revenue, and it seems that neighboring flavor bans have been an economic boon to Vermont. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking rates among young adults aged 18 to 24 years old decreased on average by 19.7% between 2020 and 2021. Yet, in three out of four states with active flavor bans, young adult smoking rates increased.

Moreover, Massachusetts enacted a full tobacco and vape flavor ban in 2020. Between 2020 and 2021, state cigarette excise tax revenue fell by over 22%, while in Vermont, cigarette tax collections increased by 3.6%. 

Even more significantly, during the same period, the revenue Vermont received from the state’s excise tax on vapor products increased by 76.3%. Comparatively, New Jersey, which enacted a flavored e-cigarette ban in 2020 saw their excise tax collections from vapor products decrease by 39.1%.

These figures are significant as the Green Mountain State consistently spends very little on tobacco control programs, despite increases in revenue. In 2021, lawmakers allocated only $2.7 million in state funding, which was zero percent change from 2020. This is despite increases in state excise tax revenue from both the cigarette and vapor product taxes.

Rather than continue with draconian prohibitions that do not consider still missing youth survey data, lawmakers ought to revisit the existing tobacco monies and dedicate more state funding towards programs to prevent youth use while helping adults quit.

 

 

 

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