San Francisco's flavored vape ban may have massively backfired

A new study from Yale University warns that cities may need to think twice before banning flavored tobacco products, including flavored vape liquids that contain nicotine. That's because, according to the new research, San Francisco's 2018 flavored tobacco products ban seems to have had the opposite of its intended effect — rather than reducing teen nicotine use, evidence points toward it driving more teens to use traditional tobacco cigarettes.

The idea behind the flavored tobacco ban — which included menthol — was that teenagers may be more inclined to vape or use cigarettes if they have tasty flavors like desserts or fruit. The ban, proponents argued, would remove the appeal from these products, hopefully resulting in a decrease in teen tobacco usage...only that didn't happen.

According to the new Yale study, the odds of San Francisco teenagers smoking regular combustible cigarettes doubled after the flavor ban, deviating from the trends observed in other places. Without the flavors, the researchers note, teenagers may have no incentive to choose electronic cigarettes over their combustible alternative, driving them to packs of cigarettes rather than vape pods.

This is a problem for obvious reasons: though vapes aren't safe, a growing body of research has found evidence that they're considerably less harmful than regular tobacco cigarettes. As such, the study found, banning flavored vape products may backfire for cities aiming to improve public health by driving young users to the most harmful option.

The researchers suggest that cities looking for alternatives may want to consider limiting tobacco product sales to stores that only allow adults ages 21 and older. This would reduce teenagers' exposure to the products in common places they may visit like gas stations and make it more difficult for youth to acquire them.