Ban on electronic cigarette sales to minors and youth smoking

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Lobby (Annenberg Center)

Author(s): Rahi Abouk; Scott J. Adams

Discussant: Jenny Williams

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have become increasingly popular in the United States, especially among youths. Between 2013 and 2014 only, e-cigarettes use has tripled among middle school and high school students. Although little is known about the harm of e-cigarettes, there is solid evidence that a large proportion of minors dually use e-cigarettes and combustion cigarettes. A group of studies suggest a gateway effect in which youths begin smoking e-cigarettes, and this leads to smoking conventional cigarettes (Dutra and Glantz, 2014). Since 2010, several states have banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors.  By the end of 2014, forty states had such a ban. Friedman (2015) uses a state-level biannual data (up to 2013) on prevalence of smoking among youths between 12 and 17 years old and finds that the bans increase conventional cigarette smoking rates.  This evidence is suggestive that e-cigarettes are a substitute for cigarettes.

By using the 2009-2014 Monitoring the Future surveys, in which we have monthly data on cigarette use during the school year, we revisit the link between e-cigarette and conventional cigarette consumption among 12th graders in the United States (under 18 or 19 years old depending on the state definition). This survey contains respondents’ age in months, enabling us to accurately identify whether they are treated as underage individuals or adults. By using a difference-in-differences identification strategy, we compare pre- and post-ban smoking incidence among minors in states enacting the bans compared with control states. After including an extensive set of individual and state-level controls, including state-specific time trends, our results suggest that conventional cigarette smoking incidents in state implementing sales bans actually decline by 1.7 percentage point. The effect is more pronounced on boys but weak and statistically insignificant effect on girls. Furthermore, the ban does not affect the intensity of smoking among smokers, suggesting that the gateway effect seems to be driving the relationship. Additional estimates show that the ban has no effect on adults. Overall, in contrast with Friedman’s (2015) findings, this study suggests that the ban on e-cigarette sales to minors is an effective tool in reducing prevalence of tobacco use through conventional channels, at least for minors who are close to legal ages.