DURHAM – A new study warns that a crackdown on usage of e-cigarettes from local laws to efforts by the FDA could backfire, driving existing users to instead smoke more cigarettes.

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Duke Health says “making e-cigs less appealing to youth may have unintended effects on existing users and drive users to “get their fix” from tobacco products.

The City of San Francisco, for example, has moved to ban vaping.

The Duke study received a boost from San Francisco’s chief economist, who stated in May before the city approved the ban, that the move would make people turn to regular cigarettes. 

“The FDA now has regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and we know that some communities have taken action to ban flavored e-cigarette products,” said Lauren Pacek, the study’s lead author who is an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke.

“Our findings suggest that while some regulations, such as banning certain flavors to limit appeal to adolescents, might improve outcomes for those young users, the new regulations might have unintended consequences with other portions of the population.”

Will banning e-cigs really make people healthier?

Citing other research, Paeck said approximately a third of people who use e-cigarettes also use other tobacco products.

Key findings in the survey as reported by Duke News Service:

  • Some 47 percent of respondents said if regulations eliminated the nicotine in e-cigarettes, they wouldn’t use e-cigs as much and would increase their use of traditional cigarettes.
  • Some 22 percent said if regulations limited the customizability of devices, such as features allowing users to adjust nicotine dose or vapor temperature, they would use e-cigs less and smoke more tobacco cigarettes.
  • Some 17 percent said if e-cigarettes were to be limited to tobacco and menthol flavors, they wouldn’t use e-cigs as much and they would smoke more tobacco cigarettes.

“It’s likely some potential new regulations on e-cigarettes will result in a net good for the whole population, such as limiting flavors that might entice young users, improving safety standards, or mandating that liquids come in child-proof containers,” Pacek said. “However, our findings suggest that there should also be thoughtful consideration to potential unintended consequences that could affect other subsets of users of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

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The study, which was based on a survey of 240 young people who use both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes, was published in the Substance Use & Misuse journal on July 15.