A recent press release by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) expresses displeasure over a Connecticut bill that says all vapor products would have to be sold in age-restricted locations. Despite helping millions of American adults quit smoking, organizations like CTFK have exaggerated the issue of youth use of these products while ignoring the benefits these products provide for adults who smoke.
Since 2019, the legal age to use commercial nicotine products in Connecticut is 21. The state needs to do a better job of enforcing current laws to prevent youth use of nicotine instead of passing more laws. Restrictive laws don’t fix problems, they generate additional problems by creating customers for illicit products.
The Connecticut bill offers a compromise in the years-long heated debate over youth use of age-restricted vapor products and adults using these products to quit smoking. If it becomes law, vapor products would no longer be able to be sold at convenience stores, grocery stores or pharmacies. The bill would require all vapor products to be sold at age-restricted locations. Ultimately, these products would be removed from the regular view of youth and exclusively be accessible in adult-only stores.
Unfortunately, CTFK finds this compromise unacceptable and still wants the state to remove all flavored vapor products, in all stores, age-restricted or not.
The more logical option would be to have tobacco harm-reduction products available wherever the more deadly combustible cigarettes are sold. Compromises like the Connecticut bill should be given consideration by groups that claim to care about youth tobacco and vapor product use.
Such a compromise was recently discussed in The New England Journal of Medicine. Authors Kenneth Warner (a seasoned veteran of tobacco control at the University of Michigan), and Abigail Friedman (Yale School of Public Health) suggest that all non-medical nicotine products be sold in age-restricted locations.
This is an option not even considered or acknowledged by CTFK. This option would level the playing field between combustible tobacco and safer alternative nicotine products.
CTFK has shown it can compromise. In 1997, Matt Myers (the current president of CTFK) was involved in secret negotiations with the tobacco industry and several state attorneys general that resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement that took effect in 1998. It took years of negotiations between Myers, Philip Morris International and lawmakers before The Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act was passed in 2009. That bill put the tobacco industry under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. Meyers and CTFK then pushed the FDA to deem e-cigarettes as tobacco products and subject them to FDA regulation.
Despite these efforts, America still has a smoking problem, possibly linked to draconian regulations that permit only a small handful of companies a seat at the FDA’s regulatory table. Perhaps it’s time for CTFK to return to the negotiating table to reduce the number of people who smoke by guaranteeing adults access to safer tobacco alternatives, including flavored vapor products.
In 2006, Myers said: “The challenge to me is not to eliminate smoking, but the death and disease from smoking. That should be the end goal. If you had a product that addicted 45 million people and killed none of them, I would take that deal. Then you’d have coffee! I have to believe that if the marketplace incentives were such that over time someone could devise a product that would give the same satisfaction as tobacco but didn’t kill them, people would flock to it.”
Adults who smoke have demonstrated they can quit smoking when provided the right tools. For many, flavored vaping products have been the tool they’ve needed. Most people who smoke don’t want to be reminded of the taste of a cigarette as they try to break free from smoking. They need the flavors to assist them in the transition away from the thing that might kill them.
Parents who smoke often have children who smoke. The rates of smoking among youth will continue to decline by helping their parents and role models stop smoking. That’s a public health win for everyone, even Matt Myers.