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Vaping flavour bans - a public health disaster in the making

Millions of smokers have quit smoking thanks to vaping, and flavours have been an essential element of this incredible success. While it is estimated that already more than 80 million people worldwide are vaping - a 95% less harmful alternative to smoking - the regulatory burden on these products is intensifying.

One of the most debated issues around vaping is the regulation of flavours. Flavours are one of three main ingredients in an E-Liquid and they vary massively. Consumers can chose from desserts to tobacco, fruit to menthol. This variety allows consumers to customize their switch from smoking to vaping best suited to their tastes. Due to the growing popularity of vaping, many politicians are pushing for more regulation of the products.

Several countries worldwide are on the verge of making an enormous mistake by banning vaping flavours: The Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs announced its plan to ban all flavours except tobacco this month. The Spanish government published their Smoking Prevention and Control Plan, which, aside from grossly misunderstanding vaping as a whole, intends to ban all flavours apart from tobacco. Meanwhile, the Irish Parliament is considering  a Tobacco and Inhaling Products Bill, potentially including a flavour ban.

Outside the EU, in the Canadian province of Ontario, MPP France Gélinas tabled a bill last month to ban all flavours aside from tobacco. At the same time, several US states and municipalities are in the process of passing legislation that would include a flavour ban. California is awaiting a referendum on the matter later this year. Overall, politicians want a flavourless future.

Obviously, consumers are worried. Adults have relied on flavoured vaping to forget the taste of tobacco and its associations. A prohibition on flavours will have disastrous consequences, and we have enough examples from the last hundred or so years about how and why prohibition never works. Flavours are integral to the success of vaping as a smoking cessation aid. Science and the experience of millions of vapers have proven this.

More than two-thirds of adult vapers are using non-tobacco flavours from mint to melon, strawberry to sweet pepper and everything in between. Those using flavours are 230% more likely to quit smoking for good. Banning flavours will leave consumers with a selection of just three equally dreadful options: returning to smoking, the black market or buying their flavours abroad. The University of Waterloo found that 45% of vapers would turn to illegal sources or start smoking cigarettes again. It will be nothing short of a public health catastrophe. Flavour bans in Sweden, Ireland, Spain and the Netherlands alone could push up to 1.2 million people back to smoking.

These bans are motivated by the fact that allegedly minors are attracted by flavours into consuming nicotine. However, beyond the fact that this claim has been disproved over and over again, the opposite is actually true. A flavour ban in San Francisco resulted in rising smoking rates among teenagers for the first time in decades. An often ignored explanation for vaping uptake by adolescence is “common liability.” In other words, adolescents who are likely to vape are also likely to smoke – e.g. because of personality traits, genetic predisposition, or social and environmental factors. An Australian study even suggests that vaping diverts a subset of youth at high risk of smoking away from cigarettes. It might be inconvenient for politicians, but to help teenagers most, they should fight for higher family incomes, better schools and better health care systems. Instead, too many revert to the easy to sell but unsuccessful “solution”, namely prohibition.

Policymakers appear determined to ignore these facts by insisting flavour bans make sense. This puts millions of lives at risk and is nothing more than negligence on the part of legislators - those same people who are meant to listen to the people and science and have their best interests at heart. That is why consumers need to speak up and make their voices heard. Politicians need to hear the thousands of personal sorties how vaping flavours allowed people to switch. At World Vapers’ Alliance we will do everything we can to amplify those voices with our “Flavours Matter” campaign. Politicians must start listening to avoid the looming public health disaster.

Michael Landl is the director of the World Vapers’ Alliance. He is from Austria and based in Vienna. He is an experienced policy professional and passionate vaper. He studied at the University of St. Gallen and worked for several public policy outlets and as well in the German Parliament.


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