E-cigarette ban doubled youth smoking rates in San Francisco

In June 2018, San Francisco residents voted to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. According to a new study, the decision has had a major negative impact on the city:

San Francisco’s flavor ban was associated with more than doubled odds of recent smoking among underage high school students relative to concurrent changes in other districts

While the policy applied to all tobacco products, its outcome was likely greater for youths who vaped than those who smoked due to higher rates of flavored tobacco use among those who vaped

This is just more evidence that when kids are restricted from vaping –– especially those that already vape –– , they, in turn, use combustible cigarettes. Prior research has already documented similar results. A 2015 study, for example, found that state bans on e-cigarettes increased smoking rates among 12 to 17-year-olds.

We have seen in Minnesota proposals to ban flavored tobacco. Cities like Bloomington have already undertaken actions to fully ban the sale of flavored tobacco, including e-cigarettes. In a perfect world, this should completely end all use of flavored tobacco.

However, things do not work like that. Total abstinence rarely works when it comes to most risky behaviors –– illicit drugs or otherwise. Getting rid of safer products only ensures that the only options available are the more harmful ones.

Research shows that e-cigarettes are about 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes. Policymakers need to realize that restricting access to e-cigarettes puts tobacco users in more danger of developing smoking-related illnesses. At a time when a nicotine-free society seems highly out of reach, harm reduction should be the next best goal.

To be clear, no one is arguing against the dangers of tobacco or cigarette use. But e-cigarettes present a way to reduce the harm caused by combustible cigarettes and even offer smokers a pathway to quitting. Making them much more easily accessible –– at least as an alternative to smoking –– should be common sense.