State-level vaping bans are associated with increases in cigarette sales, according to new research. The study, published in the scientific journal Value in Health, adds to a growing body of evidence that prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes has potentially driven more and more people away from safer nicotine alternatives and back to smoking.
They found that an additional 3.4 million cigarette packs were sold through convenience stores across the three states during a three-month study period.
Using state-level cigarette sales data, the researchers found that Massachusetts, which enacted a full ban on nicotine vapes, had 7.5 percent higher-than-expected per capita cigarette sales. Rhode Island and Washington, which enacted bans on non-tobacco flavored nicotine vapes, had an average estimate of 4.6 percent higher-than-expected per capita cigarette sales as well. Based on actual and estimated cigarette sales, the researchers suggested that an additional 3.4 million cigarette packs were sold through convenience stores across the three states during a three-month study period starting from the effective date of each respective ban.
The study was funded by Juul Labs, and has so far made little impact, perhaps due to the fact that many in tobacco control now dismiss any industry-supported research as effectively biased. That debate, which likely has its origins in Big Tobacco’s decades-long suppression of data, has been reinvigorated as of late: The Society for Research of Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), for example, has explicitly barred industry from presenting at its conferences—a move that has led to some resignations and condemnation that it’s now tobacco control that is “anti-science.”
The researchers looked at data from the fall of 2019, when lawmakers became concerned about “EVALI”—a string of then-mysterious lung illnesses that politicians quickly linked to vaping. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) subscribed most cases to tainted, illicit THC cartridges by November 2019, state governments leaped on the drummed-up panic and sought emergency vaping bans that, in some cases, eventually became permanent.
In response to the EVALI outbreak, Massachusetts instituted an emergency ban on all nicotine vapes starting on September 24, 2019. Rhode Island and Washington followed suit and instituted four-month emergency bans on non-tobacco flavored nicotine vapes on October 4, 2019, and October 10, 2019, respectively. (Massachusetts has since permanently banned the sale of flavored vaping products, including menthol, and the emergency bans in Rhode Island and Washington have each expired, though permanent flavor bans always seem to remain on the table.)
Past studies have found similar results to the Value in Health paper.
Vaping nicotine has not been medically associated with any “EVALI” diagnosis, but misinformation swirled: Led by policymakers and sensationalist reports in the media, concerns of youth vaping rates crashed straight into fears about fatal vaping products. The misleading message was simple: Teenagers were using vapes, and in some cases, dying from it. More than two years later, the CDC has still not issued any sort of formal correction that nicotine vapes had nothing to do with the lung injuries.
Past studies have found similar results to the Value in Health paper: One in the Harm Reduction Journal by co-authors at Boston University suggested that misperceptions about EVALI, which led to Massachusetts’ ban, appears to have increased cigarette consumption throughout Boston. Another, by Dr. Abigail Friedman of Yale in JAMA Pediatrics, found that after San Francisco’s ban on flavored vapes and tobacco products, teens in the city’s high schools were more likely to take up smoking than teens in comparable US school districts.
The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants from Juul Labs. Filter’s Editorial Independence Policy applies.