Banning flavours in e-cigarettes increased sales of traditional cigarettes. This is according to a new US study. The researchers compared sales of vejp products and smoking tobacco in convenience stores and petrol stations, before and after a flavour ban was introduced.
"There are many indications that more young people started buying cigarettes instead of e-cigarettes," says economist Michael Pesko.
Bans on flavours, high taxes and other restrictions are common policy tools for prevent young people and minors from using electronic cigarettes. But what are the actual consequences of such legislation? Researchers at Yale School of public health and Missouri University find out.
Many local flavour bans
In total, 375 different US local authorities and seven states have banned all flavours in e-liquid except menthol and tobacco flavours. At the federal level, it is also forbidden to sell pre-filled pod systems with flavours other than those mentioned. However, the federal ban does not apply to disposable models or bottled e-liquid, which local bans often include.
"We looked at the sales of both pods and disposable models between 2018 and 2023 in the states where flavour bans have been introduced and compared them to the sales of cigarettes over the same period. This allowed us to see the effects before and after the ban and also to compare with those who did not introduce a ban." Michael Pesko, an economics researcher at the University of Missouri told news channel RegWatch.
Fewer e-cigs - more cigarettes
The study focused on sales in the so-called convenience sector, i.e. convenience stores, petrol stations and the like. Here, e-cigarettes are sold side by side with regular cigarettes and, according to Michael Pesko, it is in this environment that the effect of restrictive legislation is most clearly seen.
"The results showed that e-cigarette sales dropped significantly after a flavour ban. At the same time, cigarette sales increased significantly. For every 7 millilitres of e-liquid not sold, 15 cigarettes were sold," says Michael Pesko.
"Flavours are highly valued"
Flavour bans have become a trendy policy tool to curb the use of e-cigarettes among young people. According to advocates, it is mainly fruit and candy flavours that attract young people to vejpa. And this is certainly true, according to Michael Pesko.
"We see in our studies that flavours are highly valued in the market. If we introduce restrictions on flavours in e-cigarettes, we will see a dramatic drop in sales, clearly", he told RegWatch.
Young people bought cigarettes - instead
But according to Michael Pesko, the results also show another, perhaps less desirable effect.
"We cannot see the age of the buyers in the sales statistics. But we know that young smokers prefer to buy certain brands of cigarettes. When a flavour ban was introduced, it also led to a significant increase in sales of the very cigarette brands that young people tend to buy. This is worrying, especially from a health perspective, as the harmful effects of smoking are much greater than those of vejping, based on what we know today" says Michael Pesko.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.
Similar results in taxation
The research team, a collaboration between Yale University School of Public Health and the University of Missouri, has previously looked at sales statistics related to the introduction of taxes on e-cigarettes and e-liquid. Again, there were clear signs that e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes are interchangeable on the market.
"Actually, it's not that remarkable". says Michael Pesko "If we think that there are 10 nicotine products on the market and one of them is e-cigarettes. And we make one of them, in this case the e-cigarette, less attractive than it was. Then we will see an effect. Some consumers might leave the nicotine market altogether, sure. But a majority will probably switch to another nicotine product. Anyone who thinks that a flavour ban on e-cigarettes will cause people to stop buying nicotine products is living in a fantasy world." Michael Pesko told RegWatch.