Tip Sheets

NY e-cig flavor ban ‘tricky’: reduces appeal to teens, could lead to more cigarette use

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Gillian Smith

On Tuesday, New York became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which covers all flavored cigarettes and vaping products except for menthol and tobacco flavors. The ban goes into effect immediately, and retailers have two weeks to remove merchandise from stores. Cornell University experts are available to speak about risky decision making in teens and how to protect teens without encouraging use of traditional cigarettes.

Cornell University experts are available to speak about risky decision making in teens and how to protect teens without encouraging use of traditional cigarettes.

Valerie Reyna

Professor of Human Development, Director of the Human Neuroscience Institute, Co-director of the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, studies the neuroscience of risky decision making and its implications for health and well-being, especially in adolescents. Reyna says the ban could help reduce accessibility for teens and help reduce risky behaviors. 

Reyna says:

“Teenagers make risky choices, which is a natural part of growing up, but it makes them vulnerable to lifelong addictions, such as smoking. Research suggests that the adolescent brain responds more intensely to rewards of all kinds—flavors, food, money, and other ‘reinforcers.’  Thus, reducing exposure to addictive substances is especially important for teens because they can become addicted at lower levels of exposure. Drugs such as nicotine hook users by hijacking their brain’s reward system, and the reward system of teens is primed to make connections between flavors and feelings of reward.

“Banning even some vaping flavors is likely to reduce appeal and accessibility to teens, which reduces consumption and the bad consequences of consumption. Nicotine has bad health effects even in the absence of smoking, and the risks of vaping are poorly understood. Thus, it makes sense to limit teens accessibility to vaping. Teens respond more to external controls on risky behaviors than adults do, and so anything that reduces access to addictive substances may improve health. 

“No ban on behavior is 100% effective, but risky behaviors are reduced when policies constrain behavior. For example, raising the drinking age appears to have had massive effects on death and injuries, and some teens internalize a personal responsibility to not drink. The size of a beneficial effect of reducing vaping is not known, but researchers are working vigorously on this problem.  Surviving adolescence and thriving throughout the lifespan benefits society as a whole because so many social and economic problems have their origins in the teen years.”

Alan Mathios

Professor of Policy Analysis and Management

Alan Mathios, professor of policy analysis and management, studies the effectiveness of proposed cigarette package warning labels on smoking onset and quit behavior. Mathios says there may be costs to limiting teen access to flavored e-cigarettes.

Mathios’ research team is currently researching what types of warnings on e-cigarette advertisements and promotional material will be most effective in deterring youth from vaping products while avoiding unintended consequences.

Mathios says:

“One of the public policy dilemmas in dealing with the recent tragic cases related to vaping is how best to protect youth from the potential harm of these products and yet also not to implicitly encourage movement back to combustible cigarettes (recall that smoking combustible cigarettes is associated with hundreds of thousands of deaths per year).

“There is some evidence that the emergence of e-cigarettes coincided with the reduction of youth cigarette use, so the potential unintended consequence of reversing the downward trend certainly must be considered. 

“There certainly may be benefits of banning the flavors that are likely to be attractive to youth if such a ban deters youth onset. However, it is still the case that there may be costs such as youth turning to combustible cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes. So, this is very tricky. 

“The other complicated issue here is that if the current health issues are being driven by THC use in vaping products then focusing regulation on all vaping products might divert or dilute the message that it is especially important for youth, and adults as well, to avoid certain subtypes of vaping such as TCH based products."

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