Don’t Block Smokers From Becoming Smoke-Free by Banning Flavored Vapes

    [The following is based on testimony to be delivered by Dr. Abrams before the NYC City Council Committee on Health on January 30, 2019. The committee is considering legislation to ban the sale of all e-cigarettes with characterizing flavors.]


    I’m a professor at the NYU College of Global Public Health. I speak for myself and I have no financial disclosures.

    I urge you to oppose a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Millions of smokers have already quit smoking with vaping. And many cite flavors as vital in switching completely from inhaling toxic tobacco smoke.* This proposed policy would place particular burdens on those smokers with social disadvantage and other challenges by limiting their access to much less harmful alternatives.

    Scientists change their minds when new evidence is available. I know this first hand: I was wrong about e-cigarettes.

    I shared the concerns of many here.

    But as I reviewed the mounting research, the evidence clearly shows vaping—while not harmless—presents a fraction of the risk of smoking. I changed my mind.

    We don’t know everything about vaping. But we know more than enough to recommend smokers who still seek nicotine should switch completely away from combustible products.

    But smokers who don’t know vaping is less harmful are less likely to switch. Fewer than one in five understands vaping is less harmful than smoking. I fear flavor bans will worsen confusion and make it harder for smokers to switch. We need to do more to correct these misperceptions, not make them even worse.

    Nearly a million City residents still smoke. And two Americans will have died early from smoking as I delivered this testimony.

    I, too, want to protect youth. NYC is already doing so, having banned flavored cigars and purchase of all tobacco to those under 21.

    Parental smoking is a major risk factor for youth smoking. This bill would make it harder for smokers to quit, unintentionally increasing risk for youth as more children will grow up in families with parents who smoke. This may seem counterintuitive, but if policymakers could rely on intuition, you wouldn’t need science or scientists like me to improve your policies.

    Don’t place barriers between smokers and vaping products that could save their lives and protect their children from smoking.


    Farsalinos, K. E., Romagna, G., Tsiapras, D., Kyrzopoulos, S., Spyrou, A., & Voudris, V. (2013). Impact of Flavour Variability on Electronic Cigarette Use Experience: An Internet Survey. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(12), 7272–7282.

    E-liquids photo via Vaping360

    • Dr. David B. Abrams is a professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the NYU College of Global Public Health. He is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in addictions, nicotine use and chronic disease prevention. Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Abrams was professor and founding director of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. He then directed the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) across all 27 Institutes and Centers, National Institutes of Health. From 2008-2017, Dr. Abrams was founding Director of the Schroeder National Institute of Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative/American Legacy Foundation and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

      Dr. Abrams has published over 280 scholarly peer-reviewed articles and has been a principal investigator on numerous NIH grants and NIH Centers of Research Excellence. He is lead author of The Tobacco Dependence Treatment Handbook: A Guide to Best Practices, a winner of a book of the year award. He also received the Joseph Cullen Memorial Award from the American Society for Preventive Oncology for lifetime contributions to tobacco control; the Research Laureate Award, American Academy of Health Behavior; and the Distinguished Alumni Award, Rutgers University.

      Dr. Abrams also served on the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute, and was president of the Society for Behavioral Medicine and recipient of their Distinguished Scientist and Distinguished Research Mentor Awards.

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