Last week we wrote about the city of San Fransisco's proposal for a complete ban on sales of vapor products, and this week we learned that a ban on the sale of flavored products was approved by the Arden Hills city council here in Minnesota. This trend of anti-vapor policies is troubling enough; but its how these laws get passed that's just as concerning as the rules themselves.
For those unfamiliar with the Twin Cities metro area, Arden Hills is an immediate suburb nestled to the north between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The reason this new law is curious is that the town of 10,000 people has no established vape shops in the city. Sure, there are a couple tobacco stores that may sell some hardware or eliquid, but there isn't an active vape shop to gather and share news and information. The same was true when T21 was adopted in St. Louis Park & Edina. Neither of the first cities to raise the age to buy had vape-only shops in town.
The strategy is simple: Propose anti-vaping legislation in places without store and shop owners who will certainly object, and you're likely to succeed in passing it easily. Then when larger or even capitol cities are asked to adopt the same measures, the smaller cities are used as evidence that the measure is necessary. In some cases, council members have even expressed guilt for not passing measures sooner.
T21 has had a checkered success rate in the state. As of this writing it has still failed in more cities and counties than it has passed. But that's not much of a setback for the public health groups who push these policies. In fact, a patchwork of different laws from city to city strengthens the case to make something law at the state level, overruling local government decisions.
The sad fact is that this strategy of "one domino at a time" has worked, overall. While a statewide ban on indoor use was defeated in the early 2010s, and T21 has been held off thus far; both measures have made a reappearance in the halls of capitol hill. The patchwork argument will certainly be used to support these anti-vaping measures; and vape industry leaders are concerned Arden Hills' flavor ban may be next to get the creeping treatment.
The real question is, do any of these measures actually achieve the goals for which they claim to exist? Flavors are well documented as a major factor in many adult smokers making the switch. Yes, young people enjoy flavors; but so do most people with functioning taste buds. Removing flavor options for vaping is a feel-good action that runs a greater risk of closing an important off-ramp for smokers looking to quit.