Trial banning flavored tobacco in MA town reduced number of products on shelves by 70%

Bans on flavored tobacco products reduce their availability and cut down on the number of teenagers who use them, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health looked at a trial of such a ban in the town of Lowell – 30 miles from Boston – that was enacted in October 2016.

They found that, within six months of the policy being implemented, the number of products on shelves was reduced by 70 percent and teen users fell by six percent.

In the last several months, there has been a push to ban flavored e-cigarettes, which are being blamed for addicting teens and being responsible for the slew of vaping-related illnesses sweeping across the nation.  

In response, Massachusetts issued a four-month halt on the sale of all nicotine and marijuana vaping products – flavored or not – which a judge recently blocked, saying the governor overstepped his authority.

A new study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found when the town of Lowell ban flavored tobacco products, it reduced availability and the number of teen users (file image) 

Use of e-cigarettes has surged since they were introduced to the US marketplace in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And they continue to be the most used tobacco product among American teens.

A 2017 report from federal health officials found a 900 percent increase in e-cigarette use among young people between 2011 and 2015.

It led to an advisory from the US Surgeon General about the youth e-cigarette epidemic in 2018. 

For the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the team looked at the ban in Lowell, which restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products, except menthol, to those aged 21 and older.

The ban also made flavored products only available in establishments such as such as vape shops, tobacconists, and smoking bars.

Researchers collected data from tobacco retailers and high school teens between 2016 and 2017. 

They found that the availability of flavored tobacco products in Lowell fell by 70 percent six months after the policy was implemented. 

Additionally, teen users of flavored tobacco dropped by 5.7 percent and those of non-flavored tobacco reduced by 6.2 percent.   

To compare, the team looked at a nearby town of Malden, which did not have such a policy implemented at the time of the study period.

Researchers found no changes in availability of flavored tobacco, and that the number of teen users actually increased.  

‘Our study suggests that with rigorous enforcement, flavor restriction policies have the potential to curb youth tobacco use in as little as six months,’ said lead investigator Melody Kingsley of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 

‘With a longer follow-up time, we expect these trends will continue. The policy may also begin to impact and reduce other tobacco-related outcomes, such as initiation on flavored tobacco, as exposure to flavored tobacco among young people continues to decline.’  

It comes on the heels of a federal investigation into a slew of vaping-related illnesses, which health officials say affected teens and young people the most because flavored e-cigarettes were marketed towards them. 

Nearly 1,500 people had developed EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung illness) and 33 people have died in 24 states, according to the CDC. 

Most of the victims are under the age of 35 and the youngest was just 13 years old.

About 78 percent of people who’ve fallen ill have reported using products that contain THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana. 

Amid pressure, e-cigarette company JUUL announced it will no longer sell flavored pods like creme brulee, cucumber, mango, mint and fruit anywhere.

Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a four-month temporary ban on all vaping products.  

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled on Monday that Baker should reissue the ban as an emergency regulation, reported WBUR.

This would require a statement on the full impact to small businesses and a public hearing. It would also end the ban on Christmas Eve, one month earlier than the Baker ban.