Today, the R Street Institute released a new report that explores how flavors are processed by the brain, especially as it pertains to tobacco and nicotine products. Using these findings, the author, Jeffrey Smith, resident senior fellow for integrated harm reduction policy at R Street, explains how flavor can influence behavior and why well-intentioned efforts to ban flavored tobacco and nicotine products can have unintended consequences in the fight to reduce smoking rates in the United States.
This report comes at a crucial time as the debate over flavored tobacco and nicotine products continues at state, national, and international levels. Across the United States, policymakers are proposing or enacting flavor bans without fully appreciating the impact of their actions for adult smokers. And just this week, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is hosting their 10th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10), where many expect the WHO to continue its crusade against flavored, reduced-risk nicotine products.
Smoking rates have declined in recent years and, under the Trump administration, the age to purchase tobacco products was raised to 21. This has reduced youth use, and continued enforcement will help lower rates even more. However, millions of adults in the United States still smoke combustible cigarettes to the detriment of their health.
A number of tools exist to help these individuals quit smoking. Flavor, for example, has been shown to help move adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes to alternative, reduced-risk products. This makes sense on the surface; if it tastes good, then it’s more appealing. However, in R Street’s report, author Jeffrey Smith goes far deeper and explains the neurobiological connections between flavor and behavior. While adults may seek tobacco flavored products to initially switch, other flavors help them maintain abstinence from cigarettes. In the end, flavor will save more lives, according to Smith’s research.
“To reduce the nearly 500,000 smoking-related deaths that occur each year in the United States, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) must take a scientifically driven approach that recognizes the neurobiological rationale for allowing a wide variety of flavored, reduced-risk products to be available to adults—while minimizing youth access,” said Smith in a statement. “It is essential that the CTP approve non-tobacco-flavored, reduced-risk products.”