I own and operate Cool Clouds Vapor Shop in Evergreen Park with my wife, Bridget Carey. We have advocated for the smart regulation of vapor products for six years.
Cigarette smoking remains the largest single cause of preventable death and disease. Earlier this month, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that bans flavored e-liquids and flavored vapor products. The legislation to ban all flavored tobacco products was introduced by 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea.
When negotiations were finalized, we ended up with the worst possible outcome.
The ban on flavored tobacco products did not actually ban any products that are made out of tobacco. Instead, they banned flavored e-cigarettes and flavored vapor products that do not contain tobacco nor create the combustion that creates killers such as tar and carbon monoxide. Flavored cigars, hookahs, chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes were left untouched.
We are now at a point where menthol cigarettes are widely available, but the harm-reduction alternative of a menthol-flavored e-cigarette is banned. I cannot see a world where this makes sense.
Chicago made a mistake. Nearly half a million Americans lose their lives every year because of cigarettes. We all have a family member or friend whose life was either devastated or cut short due to the known deadly effects of cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have changed the lives of thousands of people in our community. Many of your friends, family and neighbors have used vapor products as a bridge to quitting all together, and others have used them as a replacement to their daily cigarette habit. These products are so important in combating cigarettes.
We have been given a false choice. We are being asked to sacrifice an entire demographic of people to smoking because some teens are experimenting with e-cigarettes.
The “gateway effect” that these aldermen cited is clearly disproven when you look at the data. Centers for Disease Control 2020 data shows that frequent use (20 or more days per month) of e-cigarettes among Chicago teens is only at 2.4 percent, while frequent use of tobacco cigarettes is at an all-time low of 0.8 percent.
Vapor products have been widely available for a little less than a decade. In that time, the rate that teens use cigarettes has plummeted.
There is also no evidence that flavors are the driving force attracting teens to e-cigarettes. In an analysis of available youth surveys in five states, only 15.6 percent of high school students cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors. A June 2020 study by researchers at Yale University concluded that flavored e-cigarette use “was no more associated with youth smoking initiation than vaping tobacco flavors.”
After years of ongoing and evolving research, national health groups like the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published a report in 2016 exploring the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes and vaping. A follow-up position statement from the RCP last October reads as follows:
“The report noted that the hazard to health arising from long-term vapor inhalation was unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco. The report also noted that health risks were likely to arise from contaminants and components generated by the vaporization process, which could be reduced as better technology and purer products became available, but these risks were still likely to be substantially lower than those of smoking. … Vapers should only be buying from mainstream suppliers who are selling regulated products; to use black-market products may carry potentially lethal risks.”
Flavors matter when adults are trying to break the habit of smoking.
In a 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 adult e-cigarette users, flavors were reported as the preferred type of e-cigarette; 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively, “at least some of the time.” Banning flavored e-cigarettes will certainly cause a significant portion of this vulnerable group to relapse to traditional cigarettes.
This legislation does put one group at extreme risk: adults who use e-cigarettes to replace traditional cigarettes.
Adult cigarette smoking rates in Chicago are reported to be 16.8 percent as of 2018. We must focus our efforts to reduce the most amount of harm. I am not willing to sacrifice a sixth of our adult population to a lifetime of cigarette use. If adult smokers use flavors to not smoke cigarettes, we must support them in their efforts.
It is ludicrous that with all this talk of protecting our children from a lifetime of tobacco addiction, a pack of cigarettes is available for purchase on every street corner. Chicago decided that the potential of keeping vapes out of the hands of teenagers is more important than that of a teen’s parent or grandparent having access to these less-harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
Are we really protecting that child if their parent or grandparent dies a premature death related to smoking?