Ivan Masiuk

U.S. News


Flavored Tobacco Bans are Tasteless Policy

As the months-long delay in the Biden administration’s adoption of a menthol cigarette ban draws on, states and municipalities across the country are wading into these waters on their own, particularly in New England. But most of these efforts are going one step further by banning all flavors for combustible and smokeless tobacco products.

Massachusetts was the first state to approve a flavor ban in 2019, and Vermont’s House of Representatives approved a prohibition in the Green Mountain State just last month. In my home state of Maine, seven municipalities, including the largest city of Portland, have banned flavored tobacco, and the state legislature is currently considering a bill to ban flavored sales statewide, a rule which could be adopted by the end of the current session.

Whether these restrictions come from the state or federal level, flavor bans are tasteless public policies that simply do not achieve their intended goals. Instead of curbing tobacco use, these bans reroute the supply chain, give rise to illicit black markets, and result in massive misallocations of public resources. Harm reduction — not prohibition — should be the regulators’ focus.

As someone who used smokeless tobacco products to kick the addiction altogether, I’m living proof that harm reduction works. In high school and college, I used dip incessantly. I don’t recall how or when it was first introduced to me, but I always had some on me and would use it half a dozen times over the course of a day.

Soon after graduating college, I finally got sick of it and turned to a new product called ZYN, which got me away from using smokeless tobacco products before quitting the habit altogether. Had I not had an alternative product to bridge the divide between dipping and quitting, I’m not sure where I’d be today. And there are millions of Americans just like me.

Politicians and bureaucrats often make legislative decisions as though the public will universally comply with whatever rules they concoct. But real human behavior tells a different story. By moving to restrict flavored and less harmful products, lawmakers are keeping Americans hooked on cigarettes and dip.

The best evidence to support this comes from Massachusetts, where Bay Staters responded to the state’s flavor ban by taking their money across state lines. After Massachusetts’ ban went into effect, Bay Staters simply crossed the border to other New England states to purchase their preferred products elsewhere.

Apart from failing to reduce tobacco use in the state, the rule also harmed the state’s economy. According to the Tax Foundation, New Hampshire and Connecticut were the biggest beneficiaries of Massachusetts’ misguided ban. Immediately following its implementation, the states experienced 22 percent and 18 percent boosts in tobacco sales, respectively. Since the ban went into effect, tobacco excise tax collections in the Bay State have shrunk from $556 million in 2019 to $380 million in 2023.

Lawmakers also seem to miss that regulation has little impact on demand for these products. By making previously legal products illegal, flavor bans make criminals out of everyday citizens and prop up black markets.

This means millions of dollars in public funds are wasted cracking down on cherry-flavored dip peddlers and menthol cigarette smugglers instead of fighting real crime in our communities. In Massachusetts, this waste is out of control.

In a report released earlier this year, Massachusetts police agencies note seizing 9,747 packs of cigarettes, 25,362 cans of smokeless tobacco, 94,775 cigars, 2,440 bags of smoking tobacco, and 36,504 vapes. Law enforcement personnel and local boards of health also performed more than 6,300 inspections and issued more than 1,500 citations.

Now ask yourself, does having an entire task force dedicated to hunting down illegal flavored tobacco sellers seem like a reasonable use of public time and resources? Or would you rather have those funds used to fight real crime in your community?

Recent history is rife with examples of the catastrophic failures of prohibitions. Rather than impose nanny state policies that seek to change and control human behavior, policymakers should emphasize harm reduction and consider how innovations in this space can and have improved health outcomes over time.