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New York Daily News listens to voice of reason

Reason Magazine editor Jacob Sullum blogged recently on the New York Daily News opinion page, comparing New York City Councilman Costo Constantinides with a doomed French queen of yore. "For Public Health, let them vape cake," reads Sullums headline, and by the end of his blog, the councilman's proposal looks like another delicacy, Swiss cheese.

The measure Constantanides advocates would ban flavored e-liquid, based on the assumption that its primary appeal is to children. Vape-bashing crusaders seem unable to fathom the idea that adults seeking a cigarette alternative would be attracted to sweet or fruity flavors. Hence, for them, introducing flavors could only be a pitch to underage customers.

A study led by nicotine/harm-reduction scientist Konstantinos Farsalinos uncovered an interesting wrinkle that undermines this supposition: ex-smokers who are just beginning a quit attempt through vaping tend to prefer tobacco flavors. But the longer they vape, the more they gravitate toward sweet flavors, and toward flavor variety (so much so that they claim that flavor uniformity would bring back their cravings to smoke).

This appears to parallel their move from disposable cigalikes to refillable vapor-tank systems. Early on, they are trying to imitate the smoking experience quite closely; they want to feel like they are smoking a cigarette, and that includes sensations of taste and smell. The further they get from the smoking experience, the more these sensations lose their hold. Indeed Sullum notes that tobacco flavors rank at the very bottom of taste preferences monitored by some e-liquid suppliers.

Sullum draws attention to an anomaly that the crusading mentality of vape-bashers tends to blur: it is illegal in New York to sell vaping supplies to persons under 21 (Gotham's new law, brought in with the public use ban at the new year, places the age limit higher than most localities). If you can't sell them to minors anyway, what difference does it make whether particular varieties have special appeal to them?

Young people are trying e-cigs in ever larger numbers, although the surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blur the distinction between experimentation and use, calling the former the latter. Most of these youth vapers are already smokers. Sullum notes the strong possibility that young smokers, just like grown-ups, are trying out vaping as a possible exit from smoking. Indeed it has been widely noted that youth smoking is falling as youth vaping rises.

The notion of vaping as a gateway to smoking (among youths or among adults) is simply not borne out either by the logic or by the data. (Not that this means youth vaping should be condoned, or that it is harmless. Nicotine itself obstructs certain aspects of brain development during puberty, so its dangers to minors are not limited to initiating a life of smoking.)

Sullum quotes a recent review that appeared in the journal Addiction: “Although there have been claims that electronic cigarettes are acting as a ‘gateway’ to smoking in young people, the evidence does not support this assertion. Regular use of EC by non-smokers is rare, and no migration from EC to smoking has been documented.” Once again, CDC lapses in reporting their survey data distort the facts -- when youth vapers were asked whether they intended to smoke in the future, the responses "yes", "probably", and "probably not" were lumped together and reported as "yes". 

Sullum concludes: "Critics like Constantinides and [Senator Jay] Rockefeller, guided by little more than their own idiosyncratic tastes, want to decree which flavors adult vapers may consume, even at the cost of deterring smokers from quitting. These taste tyrants elevate hypothetical teenagers above verifiably real adults, with potentially deadly consequences."