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June 1, 2018
5 min to read

Chicago Proposes An E-Liquid Flavor Ban

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Jim McDonald

Chicago alderman Edward Burke has proposed a law that would ban the sale of all “flavored nicotine liquid products” in the nation’s third largest city. The flavored vape ban is aimed directly at JUUL, which is mentioned in the text 25 times.

According to proposed Ordinance 02018-4150, “‘Flavored Liquid Nicotine Product’ means any liquid nicotine product that contains a constituent that imparts a characterizing flavor. As used in this definition, the term ‘characterizing flavor’ means a distinguishable taste or aroma, other than the taste or aroma of tobacco, imparted either prior to or during consumption of a liquid nicotine product including but not limited to tastes or aromas of menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, vanilla, honey, cocoa, anv candy, anv dessert, any alcoholic beverage, anv fruit, any herb, or anv spice.”

The ordinance will go to the Finance Committee first. It could then be voted on by the full City Council. No hearing or discussion dates have been set yet. If it is passed by the council, the law will go into effect in 180 days. It provides for fines of up to $500 for each offense (sale), and the possibility of a suspended or revoked license for repeat violations.

The ordinance is based on the San Francisco flavor ban that will be decided by voters in a referendum next Tuesday. New York state also has a pending bill to ban flavors.) But unlike San Francisco’s law, the Chicago proposal does not ban menthol cigarettes, or flavored cigars or smokeless tobacco. It’s strictly about vapes, and specifically about JUUL.

Alderman Burke, who is Finance Committee chairman, was described by the Chicago Sun-Times as “an anti-smoking crusader whose father died of lung cancer.” That may mean that he actually believes all the misinformation and propaganda his legislation serves up — but it doesn't excuse it.

The ordinance is a word salad of bad anti-vaping articles and press releases, combined with an all-out attack on JUUL. The staffer who researched the ordinance must have had fun cherry-picking the most ridiculous allegations against vaping. But the lazy googler included a lot of incorrect and outdated details.

Here’s a brief sample of the nearly six-page prologue to the actual legal language of the ordinance (not necessarily in order), with some especially ridiculous assertions bolded:

  • “WHEREAS, a 2006 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that nicotine use impairs development of the prefrontal cortex, and thus, nicotine users perform less well on tasks related to memory and attention compared to people who do not smoke;
  • “WHEREAS, while many young users believe e-cigarettes are a less dangerous alternative to smoking cigarettes, they still contain nicotine, ultrafine particles, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds - including glycerol, propylene glycol, and benzoic acid, and their long-term effects on the body are currently unknown;
  • “WHEREAS, in some cases, students are replacing the cartridges in the JUUL pen that are full of liquid nicotine with liquid marijuana, according to Mike Gimble, a substance misuse expert;
  • “WHEREAS, for example, JUUL resembles a flash drive and another brand, Suorin, looks like a computer mouse - and thus easily camouflaged as a typical student device;
  • “WHEREAS, the CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedman [sic], stated "E-cigarette liquids, as currently sold, are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children;"
  • “WHEREAS, because the majority of e-cigarette use is occurring among youth and teens, the City of Chicago intends to protect this vulnerable younger generation from becoming addicted to nicotine and developing additional health problems such as increased risk of heart attack and respiratory failure

    Who will a flavor ban hurt?

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    The ordinance comes hot on the heels of a letter sent to every Illinois school district from U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. The letter asks school superintendents to share anecdotes of vaping problems in their schools, and is itself a diatribe against JUUL.

    “To help combat this alarming public health scourge, we have pressed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expeditiously regulate these e-cigarette products and remove kid-friendly flavors from the market,” wrote the two Illinois senators. Durbin's anti-vaping stance is actually mentioned in the Chicago ordinance.

    In Chicago, huge city and Cook County taxes on nicotine-containing e-liquid have forced most vape shops to sell zero-nic juice along with separate nicotine shots. The proposed ordinance would not currently affect these products. However, there is nothing to prevent an alderman from suggesting an amendment to the ordinance that would include all e-liquid.

    The ban won't affect online buyers either. And, of course, it won't prevent well-off vapers from driving past the city line to buy their favorite flavors in the suburbs. It will affect the Chicago stores that sell these products though. Banning flavored e-liquid won’t save any children, but it will sure hurt a lot of ex-smokers who have switched to vaping, whether they’re using JUUL or open-system products with bottled e-liquid. Alderman Burke may think he’s protecting the kids with his silly ban, but he’s really protecting cigarette sales — and punishing smokers who might be ready to try something safer.

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    Jim McDonald

    Vaping since: 12 years

    Favorite products:

    Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

    Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

    Jim McDonald

    Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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