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Thank you for the corrections and for acknowledging the omission. The additional analysis performed by ITC is greatly appreciated and provides further insight into the impact of both interventions. Although unstated, Canada’s regional characterizing flavour bans contributed significantly to the development of a national menthol additive ban as chronicled by the U.S. Tobacco Control Legal Consortium . I look forward to reading the full analysis when published.
1. Kerry Cork, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, Leading from Up North: How Canada Is Solving the Menthol Tobacco Problem (2017). https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/sites/default/files/resources/tclc...
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Reducing smoking rates in older smokers will achieve a far greater reduction in deaths & disease and do this much earlier than reducing already much lower smoking rates in teens & young populations. Tobacco harm reduction (THR) options, such as vaping, Heated Tobacco Products (HTP), snus & nicotine pouches, all avoid inhalation of smoke from tobacco combustion and are less risky than smoking cigarettes which are responsible for the death of more than 50% of long term smokers. Cigarette sales in Japan declined by over 40% in five years after HTPs entered the Japanese market in 2016. There are now many other examples of other THR options substituting for deadly cigarettes in other countries.
New drug harm reduction interventions usually face fierce opposition for many years after their introduction. Needle syringe programs to reduce HIV spread among and from people who inject drugs were still strongly resisted long after the evidence for their effectiveness, safety and cost effectiveness was incontrovertible. It is not surprising to me therefore, as a veteran of many battles over new drug harm reduction interventions, to observe the acrimonious debate over THR.
If it is made easy for older smokers to switch to THR options, the benefits will not only be an acceleration in the decline of smoking related deaths and disease, but also a more rapid decline in cigarette sales.
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In his comment, Les Hagen brings up an important distinction between two types of restrictions on menthol: a menthol additive ban, and a menthol characterizing flavour ban. Canada's menthol ban across the provinces did indeed involve both types. Between May 2015 and July 2017, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador implemented characterizing flavour bans, whereas New Brunswick implemented a menthol additive ban . When the Federal Government implemented a menthol additive ban in October 2017  , it applied only to the remaining provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba—as well as Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Thus, the "menthol cigarette ban" in Canada is a mixture of the two types.
Our article  evaluated the impact of menthol bans implemented between the 2016 and 2018 waves of the Canadian arm of the ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Surveys. Hagen incorrectly stated that "the analysis was performed exclusively on provincial characterizing flavour bans." In fact, the provinces evaluated in our study included both those that implemented characterizing flavour bans (Quebec, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador) and those that implemented the Federal menthol additive ban (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba).
In our original study, we did not test for differences between the two kinds of bans, beca...
In our original study, we did not test for differences between the two kinds of bans, because the number of menthol smokers across the seven provinces in our evaluation study was low (N=138). However, we did report that there were no statistically significant differences in smoking cessation outcomes between menthol and non-menthol smokers across the seven provinces, consistent with the possibility that there were no differences between a characterizing flavour ban and an additive ban. Hagen's comment did prompt us to do the explicit analysis, comparing the four provinces with characterizing flavour bans to the three provinces with menthol additive bans.
Consistent with our previously reported findings of no differences across the seven provinces, the explicit comparison found no significant differences in smoking cessation outcomes among daily and among all smokers between menthol smokers and non-menthol smokers in provinces with menthol additive bans vs provinces with menthol characterizing flavour bans. Thus, the findings do indeed, as Hagen aimed to highlight, point to the positive impact of the characterizing flavour ban, being not different from that of the national menthol additive ban ─ with the caution that the small sample sizes afforded low statistical power to test for differences.
Our follow-up analysis also showed that a significantly higher percentage of pre-ban menthol smokers reported that they still smoked menthols at follow-up in provinces with menthol characterizing flavour bans, compared with provinces with menthol additive bans (25.3% vs 8.4%, p=0.02). We will describe these results more fully in a forthcoming paper.
There are complexities in the distinctions between a characterizing flavour ban and an additive ban. Each would call upon different kinds of regulatory oversight. For example, the European Union's characterizing flavour ban under the 2016 Tobacco Products Directive  required the establishment of an Independent Advisory Panel to determine whether a particular tobacco product has a characterizing flavour, with input from a technical group of sensory and chemical assessors, whose methodology is "based on a comparison of the smelling properties of the test product with those of reference products."  In contrast, regulating an additive ban requires product testing to determine the presence of a banned additive.
As jurisdictions consider measures to eliminate the well-documented impact of menthol in increasing attractiveness and reducing harshness of combustible tobacco products , these differences in regulatory capacity need to be considered.
1. Canadian Cancer Society. Overview summary of federal/provincial/territorial tobacco control legislation in Canada, 2017. Available: http://convio.cancer.ca/documents/Legislative_Overview-Tobacco_Control-F...
2. Government of Canada. Order amending the schedule of the tobacco act (menthol), 2017. Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2017/2017-04-05/html/sor-dors45-eng.php
3. Chung-Hall J, Fong GT, Meng G, et al. Evaluating the impact of menthol cigarette bans on cessation and smoking behaviours in Canada: longitudinal findings from the Canadian arm of the 2016–2018 ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Surveys. Tobacco Control Published Online First: 05 April 2021. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2020-056259
4. European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Directive 2014/40/ EU. Off J Eur Union 2014. Available: https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/tobacco/docs/dir_201440_e...
5. European Commission. Technical Group of sensory and chemical assessors. Available: https://ec.europa.eu/health/tobacco/products/characterising_flavours/tec...
6. Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. Menthol cigarettes and public health: review of the scientific evidence and recommendations. Rockville, MD: Food and Drug Administration, 2011.
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We thank Pesko for his comments and the opportunity for us to respond and clarify.
First, we appreciate Pesko’s clarification that Cotti et al. (2020) clustered standard errors to account for clustering. In the present study, we used multilevel analysis not only to account for clustering of respondents (i.e., design effects) but also to incorporate different error terms for different levels of the data hierarchy which yields more accurate Type I error rates than nonhierarchical methods where all unmodeled contextual information ends up pooled into a single error term of the model.
Second, we understand that Cotti et al. (2020) evaluated the magnitude of e-cigarette tax values, which does not contradict to our statement because our study focused on the effects of e-cigarette excise tax policies on individual e-cigarette use and prevalence rather than aggregated sales at state or county levels. We also clearly described the reason why we examined the e-cigarette excise tax policy implementation indicator rather than its magnitude in our paper’s discussion section.
Third, our study used a nationally representative sample of young adults (rather than a nationally representative sample of general adult population). While we understand Pesko’s concern that a sample’s representativeness might be lost when subgroups are explored, we believe our use of sampling weights in analysis has reduced such a concern.
Fourth, in Table 3,...
Fourth, in Table 3, please note that vaping product excise tax policy indicator is a time-variant variable in Model 1. However, to present results of a standard difference-in-differences model with a binary indicator, the policy implementation status was operationalized as a time-invariant variable in Model 2, which is not unusual.
Disclosure: We did not receive any funding from the tobacco industry.
1. Cotti, C. D., Courtemanche, C. J., Maclean, J. C., Nesson, E. T., Pesko, M. F., & Tefft, N. (2020). The effects of e-cigarette taxes on e-cigarette prices and tobacco product sales: evidence from retail panel data. National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper No. w26724.
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We appreciate the comments from Bates and the opportunity for us to respond and clarify.
First, Bates' argument heavily relies on the assumption that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes, which is theoretically possible as some consider vaping as a harm reduction alternative to combustible cigarettes. Empirically, however, there have been mixed findings about whether e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes (or complements). Bates cited Pesko et al. (2020) that concludes e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes, whereas other studies have shown that they are complements. For example, Cotti et al. (2018) found that higher cigarette excise taxes, in fact, decrease sales of both e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes, suggesting that they are complements. Such mixed results abate Bates' argument that taxing ENDS could lead to more use of combustible cigarettes.
Second, Bates might have ignored that our study focused on young adults aged 18-24 years rather than general adults when examining the effect of vaping product tax on e-cigarette use. Although Pesko et al. (2020) suggests that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes, the findings are based on the general adult population (average age: 55 years) which may not be generalizable to the young adult population. In fact, one study conducted by Abouk and Adams (2017) indicates that e-cigarettes and combustible ci...
Second, Bates might have ignored that our study focused on young adults aged 18-24 years rather than general adults when examining the effect of vaping product tax on e-cigarette use. Although Pesko et al. (2020) suggests that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes, the findings are based on the general adult population (average age: 55 years) which may not be generalizable to the young adult population. In fact, one study conducted by Abouk and Adams (2017) indicates that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are not substitutes for young people. Established cigarette smokers may use e-cigarettes as a cessation tool but it is less common in young adults. In addition, even if e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes are substitutes to some degree, the direction of substitution as well as co-use versus subsequent use should not be overlooked. Studies have shown that e-cigarettes may serve as a gateway to future combustible cigarette smoking among young people. For example, a study conducted by Hair et al. (2021) shows that youth and young adults who reported ever e-cigarette use had significantly higher odds of ever cigarette use one year later. Therefore, e-cigarette use versus combustible cigarette smoking is not simply an issue of substitution in particular among young people.
1. Abouk, R., & Adams, S. (2017). Bans on electronic cigarette sales to minors and smoking among high school students. Journal of Health Economics, 54, 17-24.
2. Cotti, C., Nesson, E., & Tefft, N. (2018). The relationship between cigarettes and electronic cigarettes: Evidence from household panel data. Journal of Health Economics, 61, 205-219.
3. Hair, E. C., Barton, A. A., Perks, S. N., Kreslake, J., Xiao, H., Pitzer, L., ... & Vallone, D. M. (2021). Association between e-cigarette use and future combustible cigarette use: Evidence from a prospective cohort of youth and young adults, 2017–2019. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106593.
4. Pesko, M. F., Courtemanche, C. J., & Maclean, J. C. (2020). The effects of traditional cigarette and e-cigarette tax rates on adult tobacco product use. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 60(3), 229-258.
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I have a number of concerns with the paper as currently written.
1) The authors write: “Besides, none of the previous studies except Pesko et al (15) that examined the associations between vaping product excise tax adoption and ENDS use has accounted for the clustering of respondents within the same localities…” This is not accurate, as citation 19 also clusters standard errors at the locality level in all specifications.
2) The authors write: "A working paper reported reduced ENDS sales, but not ENDS use prevalence or behaviours, after implementation of a vaping product excise tax policy. (19)” This is not accurate, as the cited study uses the magnitude of e-cigarette tax values, rather than an indicator variable for tax implementation. States have adopted e-cigarette taxes of different magnitudes and a number of them (such as California) have changed the magnitudes of these taxes after adoption. All of this variation is used in citation 19, contrary to the current study’s description. It's also unclear from the sentence whether citation 19 studied use and found imprecise estimates, or did not study use. It's the latter and this should be clarified. It's also unclear why the authors did not use magnitude of e-cigarette taxes themselves in the current paper, as has been commonly done in the referenced literature.
3) Authors write they use a “nationally representative sample of US young adults.” I do not beli...
3) Authors write they use a “nationally representative sample of US young adults.” I do not believe this is not accurate. The TUS-CPS sample itself may be nationally representative, but this representativeness may be lost when subgroups are explored.
4) The “vaping product excise tax policy” variable in Table 3 appears to be re-defined mid-table. Based on the discussion of the results, in column 1 it appears that this variable is an indicator equal to 1 only at the time when a state has an e-cigarette tax in place. In column 2 though, this indicator equals 1 when a state ever has an e-cigarette tax in place (even prior to it being in place). The use of the same row for a variable that changes across columns is unusual and can easily lead to the wrong interpretation.
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This article does not distinguish between characterizing flavour (menthol) bans that were implemented in Canadian provinces between 2015 and 2017 and the implementation of a national ban on menthol additives in Canada in October 2017. Although unreported, the analysis was performed exclusively on provincial characterizing flavour bans. This significant distinction should be reported to ensure that researchers and policy makers are aware of the potential impact of a characterizing flavour ban and to ensure that this policy measure is not dismissed or discounted.
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I would like to make three comments by way of a brief post-publication review.
1. The impacts of vaping tax on smoking have been completely overlooked
For a study of e-cigarette taxation to have any public health relevance, it must consider the impact of e-cigarette prices on *cigarette* demand. Cigarettes and e-cigarettes are economic substitutes. The demand for one responds to changes in the price of the other, an idea well understood in economics and quantified through the concept of cross-elasticity. The paper appears to pay no regard to the impact of vaping taxes on cigarette demand, Yet such effects might easily overwhelm any benefits from reduced e-cigarette use - in fact, impact on demand for other tobacco products and the development of informal markets are by far the most important impacts of a vaping tax. By way of example, a 2020 paper by Pesko et al.  concluded:
"Our results suggest that a proposed national e-cigarette tax of $1.65 per milliliter of vaping liquid would raise the proportion of adults who smoke cigarettes daily by approximately 1 percentage point, translating to 2.5 million extra adult daily smokers compared to the counterfactual of not having the tax."
2. The case for reducing adult vaping by taxation has not been made
The authors have based their paper on an unexamined assumption that it is a justifiable goal of policy to lower rates of adult e-cigarette use. Why should...
The authors have based their paper on an unexamined assumption that it is a justifiable goal of policy to lower rates of adult e-cigarette use. Why should this be a policy goal any more than reducing caffeine use or moderate alcohol use? The goal of public health policy is to address significant harms or self-destructive patterns of use, not to modify behaviours that the authors find distasteful. What are the harms that justify state intervention to reduce adult vaping with a tax? Further, they appear indifferent to welfare costs and the distributional impact of imposing a regressive tax burden on people who use vaping products. Tobacco control advocates should become more familiar with the idea that punitive policies impose harm on users, even though these users are supposed to be the intended beneficiaries. For example, a vaping tax harms families by drawing on the household budget of those who continue to vape.
3. The analysis to support the policy recommendations is wholly inadequate
The authors make over-confident policy recommendations without considering the full range of impacts of the measures they are proposing.
"Our findings suggest that adopting a vaping product excise tax policy may help reduce ENDS use and suppress the increase of ENDS use prevalence among young adults. Considering that there are still a number of US states that have not implemented vaping product excise tax policy, wider adoption of such policy across the nation would likely help mitigate ENDS use prevalence."
Without considering all the possible responses to the tax they support, they may easily be proposing tobacco control policies that do more harm than good. In fact, the most important public health impact of this policy is entirely excluded from the analysis. That is the effect of a vaping tax on smoking or other tobacco use. Given the two orders of magnitude difference in risk between smoking and vaping, only a tiny uptick in smoking would be needed to completely offset the benefits, if any, arising from reduced vaping
 Pesko MF, Courtemanche CJ, Maclean JC. The effects of traditional cigarette and e-cigarette tax rates on adult tobacco product use. J Risk Uncertain 2020;60(3):229–258. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11166-020-09330-9
We thank Dr. Moira Gilchrist (1) for her careful attention to our work (2). Gilchrist argues our principal findings were erroneous and any change in news coverage of IQOS and the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak were confounded by other Philip Morris International (PMI) media materials and not those specifically discussing EVALI and IQOS (3) which we attributed our findings to. However, a deeper inspection of this argument suggests our original findings and conclusions remain plausible.
Tobacco Watcher is a dynamic resource with continuous data collection and processing. Thus, the results of analyses on the platform can vary over time. On June 10, 2021 we replicated our analysis. After correcting an error that the PMI’s materials on EVALI and IQOS (3) was initially published on 24 September 2021 (not 25 September) the principal finding is unchanged. News coverage mentioning both “IQOS” and EVALI (i.e., including the terms ‘vaping’ and ‘illness’) reached an all-time high immediately after PMI published materials about EVALI and IQOS on their website. Thirty days prior to PMI posting this material (August 25th through September 23rd) 2.0 news stories per day matched our search compared to 12.8 for the 30 days after their publication (September 24th through October 23rd), with 384 news reports matching our keyword search for the latter period. Our original assertion that there were 14 duplicate articl...
Tobacco Watcher is a dynamic resource with continuous data collection and processing. Thus, the results of analyses on the platform can vary over time. On June 10, 2021 we replicated our analysis. After correcting an error that the PMI’s materials on EVALI and IQOS (3) was initially published on 24 September 2021 (not 25 September) the principal finding is unchanged. News coverage mentioning both “IQOS” and EVALI (i.e., including the terms ‘vaping’ and ‘illness’) reached an all-time high immediately after PMI published materials about EVALI and IQOS on their website. Thirty days prior to PMI posting this material (August 25th through September 23rd) 2.0 news stories per day matched our search compared to 12.8 for the 30 days after their publication (September 24th through October 23rd), with 384 news reports matching our keyword search for the latter period. Our original assertion that there were 14 duplicate articles is not supported by our replication analysis.
We recognize that for any observational data analysis there are alternative explanations. However, Gilchrist’s alternative explanations are debatable. First, she argues the materials published by PMI on EVALI and IQOS (3) were not a “press release” and therefore could not have engendered a change in media coverage. We now refer to the materials published by PMI on EVALI and IQOS as a “public statement” published on PMI’s website. Yet, PMI has not provided any verifiable disclosure about how they circulated these materials beyond their publication and availability on internet search engines and social media, a concern we raised in our study (2). Regardless, PMI’s public statement was potentially consumed and amplified by other media makers. Second, she assumes the increase in news coverage was due to a PMI publication entitled “Philip Morris International Inc. and Altria Group, Inc. End Merger Discussions” (4) which does not mention EVALI. While a sizable percentage of the news articles we studied mention the merger, their inclusion of IQOS and EVALI suggests the possibility of additional source material for these stories. It is plausible that information from the published materials we studied tying IQOS and EVALI and the larger merger story were discussed in tandem.
There were factual errors in our report that we missed during the copy edit of our piece: the date of PMI’s materials being published was misstated (25 versus 24 September), the date of another reference was misstated, and references were misordered. Additionally, the date we submitted our piece was misstated due to a production system issue created by a delay in submitting the revised version. Last, in light of PMI stating that the 25 September publication was not a press release, the article has been amended accordingly. We have provided Tobacco Control with an errata to correct these errors. However, the principal conclusion of our work was unaffected by any error.
While we can measure the potential spillover effect of published claims, we cannot know PMI’s intent. It is paramount that the earned media strategies of the tobacco industry come under closer inspection. The tobacco industry has used varied tactics to sow misimpressions that favor them and their products, a fact well documented in both the scientific literature and courts of law (5); earned media campaigns may be yet another.
1. Gilchrist M. Study alleging Philip Morris International used the EVALI outbreak to market IQOS requires substantial methodological revision and further peer review, or retraction. Tob Control Rapid Response.
2. Ayers JW, Leas EC, Dredze M, et al. Tob Control. Epub ahead of print: doi:10.1136/ tobaccocontrol-2021-056661.
3. Philip Morris International. Lung illnesses associated with use of vaping products in the US. Available: https://www.pmi.com/media-center/news/lung-illnesses-associated-with-use... [Accessed 10 Mar 2021].
4. Philip Morris International. Philip Morris International Inc. and Altria Group, Inc. End Merger Discussions. https://philipmorrisinternational.gcs-web.com/static-files/78a6afb3-107d... Accessed 11 June 2021.
5. Ong EK, Glantz SA. Constructing "sound science" and "good epidemiology": tobacco, lawyers, and public relations firms. Am J Public Health. 2001;91.
A review of this study has been published by the target of its criticism, the tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI), via the post-publication review server Qeios 
The main finding of this study, and the allegation raised in its title, is that PMI cynically used an outbreak of lung injuries in the United States (initially but incorrectly attributed to nicotine vaping) to promote its heated tobacco product, iQOS. Heated tobacco products are one alternative to vaping for those looking for a safer alternative to smoking. On 24th September 2019, PMI published an information notice about its products in response to the lung injury outbreak. The authors assert that PMI was trying to gain commercial publicity from a health crisis: a serious allegation. But the allegation appears to be based on a major error by the authors.
The study used a "fully automated media analysis engine" to count stories that mention iQOS around that time, showing that there were considerably more than usual. On this basis, the authors concluded that PMI's unethical promotional gambit had worked. However, the day after PMI allegedly disreputably sought publicity for iQOS, the company also issued a press release disclosing that merger negotiations with the American tobacco company, Altria, had ceased. PMI and Altria have a joint marketing agreement for iQOS in the United States. The end of merger talks would be big news in the business pre...
The study used a "fully automated media analysis engine" to count stories that mention iQOS around that time, showing that there were considerably more than usual. On this basis, the authors concluded that PMI's unethical promotional gambit had worked. However, the day after PMI allegedly disreputably sought publicity for iQOS, the company also issued a press release disclosing that merger negotiations with the American tobacco company, Altria, had ceased. PMI and Altria have a joint marketing agreement for iQOS in the United States. The end of merger talks would be big news in the business press and would likely include a discussion of consequences for iQOS.
So, an analysis that tries to measure media interest in PMI and iQOS for cynical publicity purposes at that time would be heavily confounded by other unrelated but newsworthy developments concerning the same company and product. A check of the press releases by the company should have raised the alarm. PMI also states that it did not seek any publicity for its safety notice about iQOS, which PMI says the authors:
"falsely describe as a “press release”, despite it never being published through a press release distribution service"
Now that it has been pointed out, it is quite clear that a serious error has been made here that undermines the foundations of the study and renders the allegation made in the title baseless. The simple way to deal with this is to acknowledge the error, retract the article, apologise, and resolve to be more careful in future. That should take a couple of hours, not several months and there would be no shame in it. That this has not happened is troubling.
 Moira Gilchrist (PMI) Review of: Philip Morris International used the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak to market IQOS heated tobacco. Qeios. [https://www.qeios.com/read/NLZDBR}