January 2, 2020 9:29AM

With Mounting Evidence That E‑cigs Help Smokers Quit, The Trump Administration is Poised to Make Quitting More Difficult

A just‐​published National Bureau of Economic Research working paper provides empiric evidence that the new “war on vaping” runs at cross‐​purposes with public health efforts aimed at getting tobacco smokers to quit.

Nicotine e‑cigarettes are twice as effective as nicotine patches, gum, or other nicotine replacements in achieving smoking cessation according to a 2019 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the NBER working paper the researchers studied the impact of the 95 percent tax on the wholesale price of e‑cigarettes that was enacted in Minnesota, the first of the states to tax e‑cigarettes. (There is no federal tax on e‑cigarettes.) They used the National Cancer Institute Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey from 1992–2015 in conjunction with a synthetic control difference‐​in‐​differences approach and concluded:

Our results suggest that in the sample period about 32,400 additional adult smokers would have quit smoking in Minnesota in the absence of the tax. If this tax were imposed on a national level about 1.8 million smokers would be deterred from quitting in a ten year period. The taxation of e‑cigarettes at the same rate as cigarettes could deter more than 2.75 million smokers nationally from quitting in the same period.

On New Year’s Eve the Washington Post reported the Trump administration plans to announce a ban on flavored vaping pods while sparing refillable open‐​tank systems commonly sold in vaping shops. Menthol and tobacco flavored vaping pods will still be permitted. This is seen as a compromise between a complete ban on flavored vaping and the status quo. President Trump was concerned that a complete ban will irreparably harm vaping retailers.

While this proposal is not as damaging as a complete ban, it still stands to interfere with efforts by adults to quit smoking. Multiple surveys show they prefer the flavored variety to quit tobacco and the flavored pod ban makes that more inconvenient. And if the goal is to reduce teen vaping (which has increased as teen tobacco smoking has plunged), it is unclear if the ban of all flavored pods except menthol and tobacco will have much impact, given survey reports that menthol is one of the most popular flavors among teens.

This proposal will likely cause many teen and adult vapers to shift to the menthol flavor, but it may also cause some to look to the black market for flavored pods, with all of the health risks that entails. It also risks disrupting the continued decline in adult tobacco smoking.