The flavored vape fallacy is one of the most insidious and anti-scientific zombie vaping myths. Unfortunately, it also resonates with politicians and concerned voters. Thanks to the teen vaping epidemic, bans on vaping flavors have been slowly gaining steam. Today the state of Michigan has taken it a step further.
As reported by The New York Times, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the state’s department of health and human services to ban the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products in stores and online. She has also imposed a ban on marketing that portrays vaping as clean, safe and healthy. Apparently, she is unaware that countless regulatory restrictions have already been imposed on the marketing of e-cigarettes.
Earlier this month, the careless reporting of vaping lung disease made it sound like it electronic nicotine delivery systems were responsible for a horrible rash of illnesses. Spoiler alert: It was black market THC cartridges. Now we have a heavy handed “temporary” 6 month ban on flavors.
Not a good summer for vapers. Welcome to Pure Michigan. Free from the flavored vape juices that adults prefer.
The Flavored Vape Fallacy
The flavored vape fallacy is a conspiracy theory. Proponents of this evidence free argument assert that sweet dessert, fruit and beverage ejuices were either intentionally formulated to hook children on nicotine or are at the very least “kid-friendly.”
Governor Whitmer bought into this conspiracy hook, line and sinker. She stated, “Companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today.”
This facile and bombastic argument only makes sense if you don’t understand teen vaping preferences or know any of the actual facts on the ground. The reality is that Juul Mint, a menthol derivative, is the most popular flavor with minors.
The most fanciful flavored vapes are generally high vegetable glycerin formulas that are designed for powerful box mods. These loud, service revolver sized devices are not the preferred nicotine delivery method of minors looking to vape sneakily.
The only thing missing from her bold statement was evidence. Or the realization that minors prefer discrete devices that are basically silent, generate no vape cloud and are easy to conceal. Check out our Parents Guide to Detecting Teen Vaping for pointers on how to spot e-cig use in teens. You might be surprised how minimal of a role “kid-friendly” flavors play in teen vaping.
Reputable vape companies have no interest in selling to minors or non-smokers. The teen vaping situation poses an existential threat to the whole industry. The vaping industry is booming without relying on minors for customers because there are plenty of adult smokers who have yet to switch to vaping. There is simply no reason to tempt destruction by courting customers not of legal age, which is akin to grabbing the third rail of American regulations.
Closer inspection of the nefarious fruit vape flavors reveals that many are formulated to mimic the flavors of candies and flavors that peaked in popularity during the Reagan-era, if not before. When Diane DeGette (D-Colorado) punished the marginalized groups that she claims to champion with an ecig flavor ban, she laid bare the bankruptcy of the kid-friendly flavor canard. If these flavors are “kid-friendly” in any way, it is that they appeal to the childhood nostalgia of middle aged adults.
Mercifully, Congress has yet to act on DeGette’s SAFE Kids Act. When defending her legislation, DeGette cited Nilla Wafers, Cotton Candy and Tutti Frutti as three examples of kid friendly flavors.
Nilla Wafers may have been consumed by the box full during the space race, and Tutti Frutti was a pop hit when Ike was in office, but higher nicotine levels and easily concealed devices are more likely to appeal to kids than 65 year old rock n' roll classics and bone-dry, Nam-era sugar bombs.
Take a look at the FDA banned e-juice designs. It is obvious that some very talented designers came up with amazingly creative designs. These designs recall beloved flavors from decades ago.
Ejuice companies probably should have refrained from making their labels resemble edible items. Formulating ejuices to mimic popular flavors from the 1980s and 90s made marketing sense, but has allowed vaping opponents to paint a misleading picture. Trade dress violations are also a concern when vaping labels are taken too far.
Adult Vape Juice Preferences
It watch with growing alarm as a puritanical vape juice ban is enacted in 2019. But how do we know it is adult former smokers that prefer sweet flavors? Because they were asked and vote with their dollars on a daily basis.
A survey of 69,000 vapers by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos determined that the majority of adults prefer fruit and dessert flavors. This has created an ejuice market with a glut of sweet flavors. Competition is fierce and it is difficult to stand out in a crowded field of worthy options.
Retro ejuice flavors appeal to adults and not minors. And the reason these flavors exist is because adults prefer them. The dessert and fruit vape market is a crowded one, especially since the device of choice for consuming these flavors are thirsty box mods. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to realize that it is easier to grab the attention of a 36 year old Millennial vaper with a throwback Cinnamon Toast Crunch inspired package than with bland label that says “Sugar, Cinnamon and Cream Flavored Vape Juice”.
Minors also vote with their (or their parent’s) dollars, and the FDA’s own research shows that they have an entirely different set of preferences. Preferences that are far removed from those of a paunchy Gen Xer looking to vape the flavor of his favorite candy from 1986.
Marketing to Children or Millennials?
And how do we know that vape juice companies are not marketing to children? There is a Senate investigation into Juul, which generated nothing but cheap heat. And I refer you to the lynch pin of the marketing to kids conspiracy: the Stanford University study on e-cig marketing. All they have is speculation and innuendo.
The Stanford study amounts to nothing more than a slideshow curated with strong anti-vaping sentiments. Before delving in, remember that millennial does not equal minor. The millennial generation ranges from 24 to 39 years of age. The massive declines in youth smoking did not occur while they were in high school.
All that this study proves was that it is dangerous for ecig companies to market on social media to adult smokers who are under 40 years of age. You will be vilified.
Stanford researchers warned , “Some attendees were photographed in poses reminiscent of teen behavior, such as wearing a hat on backwards, while holding a skate board, or a girl with purple hair holding a Juul.” Not to repeat myself, but millennial does not equal minor.
The depravity of e-cig marketing was also showcased when the Stanford study described a series of, “Photos show(ing) attractive young girls in colorful Juul tee shirts serving as hosts and distributors of free samples.”
Below is one of the images in question. The subjects are young, and appear to identify as female. But to call them “young girls” IS misogynistic.
Would two men of the same age and in gender equivalent outfits be labelled as “young boys”? It is inappropriate and insulting. In the interest of fairness, perhaps Stanford can put together a slide show of inaccurate memes, myths and headlines attacking e-cigarettes.
Marginalized Adults Punished By Flavor Ban
Without delving too deeply into politics, it is disturbing that a political party that has built their national brand around protecting the marginalized is at the forefront of flavor and vape bans.
San Francisco has betrayed a tradition of harm reduction policies with a strict ecig ban. On one hand you have a city that is pushing for safe injection sites to protect the lives of IV drug users, and distributes millions of hypodermic needles annually. On the other hand, these same leaders have decided that the life and health of anyone with the temerity to have switched from smoking to vaping is forfeit. Cigarettes are still available on shelves. Simply put, the San Francisco ecig ban punishes marginalized residents. This lack of compassion is not too far removed from the ghoulish voices that oppose first responders being provided with the medications necessary to reverse opioid overdoses.
I am fairly certain that proposing “total abstinence” as the solution to other risky behaviors would get you laughed out of most rooms in San Francisco. But a puritanical approach is applied when nicotine is involved. Unless you choose to pursue cessation by relying on nicotine replacement therapy, cigarettes are your lot in life. But earlier this year, Vaping crushed nicotine replacement therapy in a New England Journal of Medicine Study. So much for the party of science.
Why is Vaping the Target?
Why is vaping the target? There are other high risk teen behaviors that are far more prevalent, and risky teen behaviors in general have been dropping for a couple of decades. But the fundamental difference is the wealth and influence of adults who vape versus adults who consume liquor.
The wealthiest and most educated Americans drink more than any other group. This same group has largely ceased smoking. It is much easier to impose strict rules on an alien habit that is enjoyed by people you never meet. CDC statistics show that alcohol is a scourge. It is blamed for the deaths of 4,000 minors annually and sends over 100,000 to the ER. But grim numbers do not matter if they interfere with your glass of red wine.
LGBTQ+ Community and Vaping
The LGBTQ+ community vapes and smokes at the highest rates. The CDC found that 20.3 percent of adults that identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual smoke cigarettes. The overall rate is just 14 percent. Bisexual women are over twice as likely to smoke as heterosexual women. The CDC found that the LGBT population in the US is three times more likely to use e-cigs: 7.5 percent versus 2.6 percent. This is the highest rate for any group surveyed.
Smoking rates among the transgendered have been estimated at over 80 percent and studies have tied this to structural discrimination. As a whole, the smoking rate in the LGBT community kills over 30,000 annually and leads significant health disparities.
The protections afforded to the marginalized come to a screeching halt when they clash with the agenda of the political class. The US has a tradition of using the safety of children to leverage major changes. There is nothing wrong with this sentiment, except when it devalues the lives of adults. And it is particularly odious when the restrictions being imposed do next to nothing to address the actual issue.
African Americans and Vaping
The CDC reports that African American smokers generally consume fewer cigarettes, attempt to quit more frequently and have less success at quitting than their White and Hispanic counterparts.
An attempted hit piece on the vaping industry examined this reality. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health studied the racial and ethnic differences among e-cigarette users. They found African Americans were more likely to embrace e-cigarettes as a cessation aid than Whites and Hispanics. They were more likely to avoid dual use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
This study was operated under the since disproven premise that “evidence based” methods such as nicotine replacement therapy were more effective than e-cigarettes. The study’s authors made it quite clear that they did not consider transitioning to e-cigarettes a worthwhile end goal. An opinion that is not shared by most credible regulatory agencies.
In pursuit of their gold-standard of total nicotine abstinence, the study’s authors engaged in some serious mental gymnastics. Their attempts to explain away the general skepticism about nicotine replacement and the widespread embrace of e-cigarettes by the African Americans surveyed was particularly flimsy.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, no fan of the vaping industry, concedes in every interview that it would be a net gain if all smokers switched to vaping. He also seemed to have smartened up and realized the role that discrete closed vape pods and nic salts play in the teen vaping crisis. His concern was balancing the ability of adults to access e-cigs with teen use. Gottlieb gave many interviews on teen vaping and mentioned this talking point almost every time. But somehow, this was rarely mentioned in editorial recaps.
Rural Americans and Flavor Bans
Rural and poor areas are suffer during flavor and vape bans. Lung cancer rates are far higher and a lack of access to health care is blamed. Banning e-cigarettes from gas stations will heavily impact availability in rural areas. There is no reason to compound smoking health disparities by denying adults the flavors they prefer and funneling them back onto cigarettes.
Iowa AG Thomas Miller criticized the new FDA e-cig regulations because they would have a disproportionate impact on rural residents. He did not have much difficulty making the case that adults prefer sweeter flavors and the risk of vapers turning back to cigarettes is an ever present danger that must be mitigated.
Juul and Flavor Bans
Juul hopes to benefit from the myth that “kid-friendly” ejuice is driving teen use. In January, Juul argued that flavors played a role in adults switching off of cigarettes. Did their new partners at Altria convince them to change their tune?
There is no question that flavor bans and talk of "kid-friendly" ejuices draw attention from Juul and have the potential to decimate their rivals in the open/refillable vape device industry.
Juul left the Vaping Technology Association because the vaping advocacy group is attempting to combat pointless flavor bans and the FDA’s constant moving of goal posts.
Barring total regulatory capture on their part, Juul may discover that it is a bad idea to make concessions to anti-vaping zealots. These groups are dead-set on their destruction. Juul won’t avoid additional scrutiny for long. Teen vaping rates won’t decline just because blueberry candy vapes have been pulled from the shelves. A public desensitized to vape bans and extreme regulations is an enormous threat to the entire industry.
Juul also faces the future challenge of the FDA approved iQOS. They may be strategic partners with Altria, but the tobacco giant is not supporting flavor bans because they want more people to vape.
Big Tobacco is attempting regulatory capture. Pure and simple. They want to use their influence as the largest stakeholders to craft regulations that stamp out the independent ejuice manufacturers and open vape device makers.
If the only flavors available are tobacco based, the iQOS is suddenly a much more viable option. Juul and Vuse can pick through the scraps of the decimated vaping industry, but the potential merger of Phillip Morris and Altria would leave them a bit player in an iQOS dominated game. Altria may own 35 percent of Juul, but the maker of Marlboro is only looking out for number one.
Beacons of Hope for Vapers
Outside of the US, there are credible government bodies that argue in favor of e-cigarettes. New Zealand promotes vaping, and their government sponsored websites provide a realistic assessment of the pros and cons.
On a larger scale, the UK’s National Health Service has long been an advocate of vaping instead of smoking. They host a website titled: Using e-cigarettes to quit smoking. Included on the website is this salient point:
An estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes and of these, 1.5 million people have completely stopped smoking cigarettes. They carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes and can be particularly effective when combined with extra quitting support.UK National Health Service
Public Health England (PHE), is an executive agency in the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care. They have found that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes. They reject the conspiracy theory that vaping is just a gateway to smoking, as well as the horribly misguided flavored vape fallacy.
The London Fire Brigade promotes vaping as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, and have the numbers that prove vaping prevents house fires.
The UK has outperformed EU countries in smoking cessation. Their humane and science based approach to e-cigarettes is why. This is why UK regulators argue that countless lives could be saved if other countries were willing to follow their lead.
Keep in mind that the NHS and PHE have no special agenda. As part of a publicly funded, single payer system, they rely on tax dollars to stay afloat and can be ruthless about cutting costs. In 2017, the NHS pulled the plug on homeopathic and herbal treatments. Whatever your thoughts are on alternative medicine, this move makes it clear that the UK is not afraid to act if it means saving money.
US politicians do not share the UK’s zeal for protecting the lives of smokers and former smokers. Marginalized smokers would benefit the most from an about-face by US regulators and lawmakers.
Why are Teens Vaping?
This begs the question, why do fewer teenagers vape in the UK. Vaping promoted there and the age limit is not being shifted upwards to 21. Could it be that the minors are actually attracted to nicotine content and not mom’s favorite candy circa 1987?
We examined the recent spike in nicotine levels in our deep-dive “What is Salt Nic?” The UK has capped nicotine levels at 2 percent, and there has been no corresponding spike in teen use. The nicotine content of a Juul in the US is over twice that. Moreover, Juul has not gained as much traction in markets where their device is hamstrung by lower nic levels. It is a device whose limited size and power levels do not matter because the ejuice is fairly potent. The original Juul design was certainly revolutionary. Pointing out how it works is not criticism. For more on the Juul device, check out our feature: The Truth and Technology Behind Juul Revealed.
Sweet flavors have been an integral to vaping for over half of a decade. Yet there was no huge rush of minors demanding to vape trumpet sized box mods and consume 15ml of ejuice daily. Such devices are loud, thirsty and relatively expensive to operate.
Increased nicotine levels allowed tiny, silent and invisible vaping devices to proliferate. This change in technology corresponded with the increase in teen use. A fact that should be clear as day to anyone paying attention.
Dessert vapes and elaborately labelled ejuices are impossible to miss. But blaming them will do nothing to reduce the prevalence of vaping in minors. Lowering nic levels seems like an obvious solution. But it could potentially harm heavy adult smokers looking to switch and the millions of adult vapers who prefer nic salts. As always, education and strict age verification are the most tried and true methods of reducing risky teen behaviors.
Ecigs and flavor bans have been all over the news and the news coverage of vaping lung disease been universally misleading. The push for flavor bans appears to be accelerating, even as the cause of vaping lung disease has just about been pinned down. For Vapor4Life’s official statement on this disease outbreak as of 9/17/2019, click here.