November 21, 2023

The Impact of Banning Flavored Tobacco on Various Cities

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Various states and cities are implementing bans or restrictions on tobacco flavors. Therefore, evaluating these different types of conditions is essential to gain insight into their impact on users. It is widely believed that comprehensive sales prohibitions of flavored tobacco products will reap substantial public health benefits, whereas partial sales restrictions only removing menthol cigarettes may be less effective.

Reduced Tobacco Use
While flavored tobacco hooks young people and increases the likelihood they will become regular smokers, it can also make quitting more difficult by masking the harshness of smoking. Removing these flavors reduces the appeal of tobacco products and enables people to leave. It is a significant benefit that cities and countries implementing banned flavored tobacco products should not overlook. In the case of San Francisco's flavored tobacco ban, youth cigarette smoking decreased by 25% after the ban's implementation, while total tobacco sales in the city declined by 32%. This decrease was observed despite some participants evading the ban by purchasing tobacco online or from non-city retailers and stockpiling flavored products before the ban took effect.

These findings suggest that a comprehensive flavored tobacco ban, even when accompanied by robust public education and enforcement of the law, is effective at decreasing cigarette smoking among young people. These results are consistent with other studies that show that e-cigarette use and cigar smoking both declined following the implementation of a flavored tobacco ban.

Notably, these reductions in tobacco use may not extend to all types of tobacco products. A comprehensive ban that includes banning flavored accessories and ensuring that tobacco products are only sold in adult-only establishments may be necessary to prevent the industry from finding loopholes around the ban and continuing to promote vaporizers that deliver nicotine but not flavored smoke.

Increased Smoking Cessation
Although some smokers may switch to other flavors when flavored tobacco is banned, it's unlikely that they will quit smoking entirely. Smoking cessation is possible with a combination of counseling and support, which is available through many public health agencies and organizations. It's essential to include proven cessation programs when implementing a flavor ban. Many studies examining the impact of flavored tobacco bans have shown that the overall positive effects can lead to increased smoke-free years. However, some studies have reported a mixed bag of results. San Francisco's flavor ban caused an increase in youth smoking rates. This finding is contradictory to the results of the majority of studies that have been analyzed. This discrepancy is likely because the data analyzed in this study was collected before the city's ban became fully effective and only accounted for a small portion of all tobacco sales. A more comprehensive analysis of the effects of a flavor ban is needed, and it would be best to utilize data from all points of sale. It can help ensure that any differences in outcomes are not caused by retailers and the tobacco industry exploiting loopholes within a policy.

Reduced Vaping
Flavors in e-cigarettes hook young people, making them more likely to continue using tobacco and make it harder to quit. Flavors, particularly menthol, also mask the harsh taste and smell of smoke, making it seem less harmful. The tobacco industry knows this, which is why they fight to keep flavored cigarettes available.

Although many studies on flavor bans have focused on menthol, the effects of actual or hypothetical full-flavored prohibitions have yet to be studied much. Moreover, most studies have been conducted on only one type of tobacco product (cigarettes or cigars) and specific flavors. However, a few studies have been done on the impact of a ban that includes cigarette and e-cigarette flavor restrictions. The results from those studies show that a full-flavored ban leads to reduced vaping, and this reduction is more significant than the impact of an e-cigarette-only flavor ban. It is an important finding and a promising development for the future of tobacco control. However, for these policies to be effective, we must provide proven smoking cessation services. It is how we can make sure that the flavored bans prevent young people from returning to traditional tobacco, especially cigarette smoking.

Increased Awareness
In addition to reducing overall tobacco use and e-cigarette and cigar sales, local flavor bans also can help increase awareness about the dangers of these products. This increased awareness may lead some people to change their usage habits by quitting or reducing the amount they smoke. In some cities, flavored tobacco bans reduced the availability of e-cigarettes and cigars, but cigarette smoking among high school students did not significantly decrease. It was because the flavored tobacco ban did not reduce the number of people who switched from menthol cigarettes and e-cigarettes to non-flavored tobacco, and some who used flavored combustibles shifted to a higher-strength cigarette or a different flavor.

Some users also continued to use banned tobacco and vapor products by evading the ban, including purchasing online, stocking up before the ban took effect, purchasing from outside the city, and buying from illegal sellers after the ban took effect. Further research is needed to examine how these tactics can be addressed. Banning flavored tobacco could help create the first tobacco-free generation and save lives for decades. The positive experiences of Massachusetts' 2020 flavor restriction policy, which includes banning menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, suggest that a ban in New York would work similarly.

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