How Vape Prohibition Affects the Black Market
In January, the CDC acknowledged that the vast majority of vape-related hospitalizations from the past year had been caused by the use of illegal marijuana products. Despite the fact that this recent health scare has practically nothing to do with the nicotine vape industry, many U.S. states are moving forward with bans on flavored nicotine vaping products. This trend is dangerous for multiple reasons.
First, it neglects to address the black market products that are the actual source of the problem. Treating nicotine vape as a scapegoat will only allow the real problem to continue to exist unhindered. Second, legal nicotine vaping products are the most effective smoking cessation products on the market, and removing them will cause many people who are vaping to resume smoking cigarettes. According to this New England Journal of Medicine study, e-cigarettes helped nearly twice as many participants remain smoke-free for an entire year after quitting smoking as traditional nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum (18% vs 9.9%). Lastly, banning flavored vaping products will ultimately create a black market. Encouraging the development of a black market will first put the health of users at risk and second remove tax revenue from the states that introduce bans.
Thanks to the research of world-renowned anti-smoking researcher Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, we know that flavors such as fruits, candies, and desserts are essential to the appeal of vaping for current adult smokers. Dr. Farsalinos stresses the fact that if flavored vape products were to be over-regulated, it would cause many vape users to return to smoking cigarettes as well as other unintentional adverse effects.
Intense regulation has already created a massive black market for combustible cigarettes in New York City, and the same would certainly happen for e-cigarettes given the opportunity. The reason why over-regulation creates black markets is rooted in simple economics. People want what they want, and while the government can regulate the cost and content of what legitimate businesses offer to consumers, they cannot regulate the desires held by the consumers themselves. When a large number of people want something that is not easily available, an opportunity is created for anyone looking to make money. There are plenty of people who want to make money, and there are plenty of those who don’t mind stepping outside of the law to do so. This is the black market.
Black market products will not meet the same standards as the legitimate, lab-manufactured products which exist on the market today, and the health of vape users will be at risk as a result. Also, while the health of our citizens is certainly the most important issue at hand, it is important to consider the tax revenue generated by the sale of these products. States rely on this tax revenue to fund the social services that we all rely on, and the Department of Justice concluded over a decade ago that states were missing out on over $5 billion of tax revenue from the over-regulation of traditional cigarettes. This loss of tax revenue will only increase as vape products become over-regulated as well.
People want what they want, and it is not the responsibility of our government to dictate what products people can consume. Even when they try, the results are ambiguous and ineffective, often making the problem worse. If we tell the people that they cannot do something, they will still do what they want. If what they want is not available through legitimate retailers, they will turn to unscrupulous sources for meeting their desires. Prohibition did not work for alcohol or tobacco, and it will not work for vaping either. The best thing society can do is to facilitate a route of minimized harm. People want nicotine, and we must allow legitimate, properly regulated manufacturers to provide nicotine vaping products to prevent a host of even greater problems from affecting society.
Quotes: “E-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapy when both products were accompanied by behavioral support.” - New England Journal of Medicine 2019
“Besides tobacco-like flavors, the consumer can choose flavors consisting of fruits, sweets, drinks and beverages and many more. This is thought to be a major feature accounting for the appeal of e-cigarettes to adult smokers as an alternative to continuing to smoke cigarettes.“
“In conclusion, this cross-sectional study of a very large sample of adult US e-cigarette users, most of which were former smokers, identified the importance of non-tobacco flavors in e-cigarette use initiation and sustained use, and their contribution to smoking cessation and relapse prevention. This information should be considered by regulators in order to avoid unintentional adverse effects of over-restrictive regulation on e-cigarette flavors.”
- Dr. Farsalinos 2018
“In the United States, federal and state governments estimate that tobacco diversion costs over $5 billion in revenue from unpaid excise taxes annually.”
- U.S. Department of Justice 2009