Proposition 31: The end of vaping in California?

PROP31 BANNER

In the United States of America, the laws surrounding vaping and what can and cannot be sold varies from state to state. This is down to the fact that regulations are enforced at a federal level by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) but each state is free to impose their own regulations as long as they are not stricter than the federal regulations set out by the FDA.

Some states have imposed higher tax rates on vaping products, some raising the legal vaping age, and some states have imposed a complete ban on flavoured vape juice being sold in the state. Most notably being the state of California putting forward the proposal of flavoured tobacco products  being prohibited back in 2020. This has caused a stir ever since it was introduced to the state, and recently, a vote has taken place where a landslide victory for “Yes” votes on Proposition 31 meant the ban is being upheld, but are the reasons for this ban still valid in todays climate, like they were in 2020 when this first came about? Let’s take a look…

The proposal put forward in 2020

In 2020, the state of California put forward for regulations that would heavily impact the vaping community. The regulations included raising the legal age limit to 21, the removal of self service vaping displays, and most notably the sale of flavoured electronic cigarettes and flavour enhancers (e-liquids) prohibited. Also included in this referendum was the banning of Menthol cigarettes, as these were deemed also to be alluring to youth’s should they opt to start smoking cigarettes.

This caused a serious stir in the state of California, with much dismay at the banning of flavoured e-liquid and vaping products as many deemed this would cause a negative affect amongst the vaping community.

The reasons that these regulations were posed to be implemented was in a bid to combat the “the disturbing rates of teen usage of e-cigarettes that was happening all across America, by removing the tempting sweet flavours that are used to make vape juice, and make it less appealing to adolescents.” They also believe that vaping is a gateway to youths turning to smoking cigarettes so in their eyes this made perfect sense to ban flavoured vape juice. This was decided that the referendum would have to go to a vote of the people on whether this would be implemented under “Proposition 31”

The lead up to the vote on Proposition 31

After announcing the proposals of the regulations, there was widespread praise as well as criticism from opposing parties. At the time of the suggestion of these proposals, the problem of youth vaping in the USA was at its absolute peak, with it being dubbed as nothing short of an epidemic.

In 2020, it was reported that there were 3.6 million (approx.) underage users of E-Cigarettes, which was a decrease from 2019 where the number was at 5.4 million. This was mainly down to the huge surge in youths using flavoured closed pod cartridges, such as Juul after their questionable advertising and promotional campaigns that were “targeted” at a younger demographic. In 2019, use of Disposable vaping products increased by an insane 1000% amongst high school students and 400% amongst middle school students. Just such a crazy statistic to read, isn’t it?

Studies also showed that 8 out of 10 current youth e-cigarette users reported that they used flavoured e-cigarettes or flavoured vape juice, with fruit and mint being the most popular but also menthol being a popular option also amongst the youth users. This added further fuel for the argument for banning flavoured vaping products.

Many parties who opposed against these suggestions being implemented had the argument that the State would be willing to ban the least dangerous way that people can use to get their nicotine cravings satisfied, and instead still allow for the most dangerous way to be openly available to any adult to purchase and use.

The only other state that has done something like this is the state of Massachusetts, which saw the sale of cigarettes plummet by 30 million packs over an unannounced period of time once menthol cigarettes were officially banned, but the thing that amuses me is in counties that border the state of Massachusetts saw cigarette packet sales peak at 33 million, coincidence?

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The support for Yes and the support for No on Prop31

It was decided that the referendum would have to go to vote by the patrons of California, and this vote would be tied in with the elections taking place in October 2022. As with any election in America, there is a lot of build-up and campaigning, and this subject was no different.

A lot of money was invested from various parties on both the Yes campaign, and the No campaign with an approx. $100 million dollars spread across both campaigns.

The most notable funding for the “Yes” campaign was from Michael Bloomberg, co-founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P, and also a well-known anti-tobacco activist. Mr Bloomberg is also actively involved with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which are also massive anti-vaping advocates and have printed a lot of legislatures relating to the “bad effects” of vaping, but that’s a topic for another article…

Bloomberg pumped in a serious amount of cash to the Yes campaign a month before the elections, with a grand total of $58 million dollars being put in from him, completely trouncing any financial backing received for the No campaign and bolstering the funding for the Yes campaign from it previously only being under $5 million dollars.

There was support for the No campaign as well, just not as rich as the Yes campaign. The highest funding that’s been publicly reported came from Philip Morris (the largest tobacco manufacturer in the USA) putting in just over $1.3 million, as well as input from other tobacco companies and other parties. This was widely believed it was more to protect the tobacco industry from losing huge capital on the sales of menthol cigarettes with them being banned within this referendum.

Unfortunately, the No campaign didn’t get as much traction as what the Yes campaign did, which is likely down to the fact of lack of financial investment unlike what the Yes campaign had from a multi billionaire mogul who has a large presence in USA politics.

The results of the Proposition 31 vote

As you probably guessed, it was a resounding win for “Yes on Proposition 31” with the total split being 63% to Yes and 27% to No, some call that a landslide victory, I think. And looking at voting from all 6 cities/counties/provinces in California, the voting within these is very reflective of the total. LA voting 63 to 37 in favour of yes, as well as Santa Clara and Contra Costa both voting 72 to 28 in favour of yes gives you an insight just how one sided these votes were.

So there it is, Yes to Proposition 31 has been voted for, and the ban on all flavoured tobacco products and vape juice plus menthol cigarettes is to be upheld. But I’m not done there with this article, I, as well as many others ask…was this really necessary? Let’s look at the statistics and see if it was…

Was Proposition 31 necessary based on year-on-year statistics?

Every year, a study is carried out called the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which is carried out by the FDA and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the data is released for viewing by the general public.

What is interesting is how the statistics read year on year from 2019-2022 which I’m going to dissect and analyse below. There is no data from 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the survey was carried out virtually rather than in person on school/university campuses and therefore the FDA do not deem it to be accurate.

FDA youth vaping data

2019

This data was collected at the peak of the “epidemic” the USA were facing with youth vaping. A sharp rise from 3.6m to 5m youth users of e-cigarettes was enough for action starting to be implemented to try and solve this problem.

2020

An interesting yo-yo effect happened in 2020, with a drop of 1.8 million and the number falling back down to 3.6 million youth users in the USA

2022

As you can see, the number has declined even further. And on some research, the total number of users in 2022 is marginally higher than what it was back in 2014 when the reports were released (2.46 million)

The flaw with this year’s data report is that they have categorised it as “current use” which can mean anything from daily use to less than once a month, when in actual fact daily use by teens is a considerably low figure than the one reported above. The actual figure of youths who said they use an e-cigarette every day only made up 27% of the total.

Moving on to the smoking statistics of youths in America, and the number reported in this survey is less than 0.3 million are current smokers. The number might still sound high, but looking back at 2015, it was reported that 1.8 million youths were active smokers in the USA. That equates to an 80% DECREASE in the last 7 years.

Looking at these statistics, and seeing the decreases happening at such high rates year on year, it makes me question was Proposition 31 in California really necessary? The reasonings behind it to “combat youth vaping and smoking” seems a bit lacklustre considering the problems that the country was facing seems to have been dwindling down without any intense intervention, like what Prop 31 could be seen as.

The impact that Prop 31 will have on the people of California

Establishing that Prop 31 has been birthed with the best intentions of preserving the youth of California from coming to harm, when in reality, it actually is set to cause more harm to the current vapers in the state, most of whom are converted smokers who used vaping as a method to help them quit.

Looking at statistics on adult vapers in California, its reported that there are over 860,000 adult users of e-cigarettes in the state of California with a whopping 85% of them using flavoured vape juice.

In the run up to Prop 31 vote, surveys were conducted asking their views on what they would do should the Yes vote be passed. 70,000 admitted they would likely return to smoking if they couldn’t get flavoured vape juice and an alarming 140,000 said that they would “find a way to get it” meaning this could potentially fund black market/criminal sellers who are likely poised waiting to capitalise on this.

The other huge cause for concern with this is if that amount of people revert back to smoking, this then will increase the number of smoking related deaths in America by seeing more people smoking again and making the numbers grow.

Conclusion

To give my views on this situation, I do not agree that this was the right way to go about things, and bans on flavoured e-liquids can have adverse effects rather than positive, as it’s been shown in the survey with people willing to use black market sellers to get what is not allowed. And looking across the world, Australia have implemented a country wide ban on flavoured vape juices in a bid to combat youth vaping, and after a year of these enforcements, the numbers are still similar and it’s not really working.

Whereas in America, the numbers started dwindling down themselves with some minor changes that weren’t as harsh as those found in this Proposition that has now been upheld. So for California to wade in with something like this and it being upheld 2 years later than when it was first announced seems a bit unnecessary in my eyes.

And that concludes my article and views on Proposition 31. This topic is something I have taken a lot of time to research the full extent of, understand both sides of the yes and no campaigns, and ultimately produce what you have now read. I really hope that this isn’t something that other states will now follow suit with and I’ll be writing about this subject more, as I hugely sympathise with current vapers that are now going to be affected by these laws being implemented.

Sources: 

Voters Uphold Ban on Flavored Tobacco Products in California – Vaping Post

California Proposition 31 Election Results 2022: Flavored Tobacco Ban Referendum – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Results from the Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey | FDA

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