Vape flavor bans seen worsening global smoking problem


The attempts by different countries to ban flavors used in vapes or e-cigarettes will force vapers to return to smoking, create a huge black market for e-cigarettes under the radar of authorities and incentivize the combustible cigarette industry, according to international consumer groups and health advocates.

Charles Gardner said a new study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research which polled 2,159 US respondents in the age group 18 to 34 found that, if ‘flavors’ are banned, so only tobacco flavor remains, 33 percent of them would switch back to smoking.

The study looked at the reactions to sales restrictions on flavored vape products or all vape products in the US.  It concluded that, “if ‘flavors’ are banned, [users] may not experience benefit.”

Vapes or e-cigarettes are among the tobacco harm reduction products, along with heated tobacco products and snus that provide smokers better alternatives to combustible cigarettes.  Many smokers have switched to e-cigarettes partly because of the flavors.

Results of the US study which were published on July 31, 2021 show that e-cigarette users indicate low support for e-cigarette sales restrictions, both for flavored products and complete restrictions.

“Moreover, if vape product sales were restricted to tobacco flavors, 39.1 percent of users reported being likely to continue using e-cigarettes but 33.2 percent were likely to switch to cigarettes. If vape product sales were entirely restricted, e-cigarette users were equally likely to switch to cigarettes,” it said.

Gardner said data from San Francisco’s real-world “experiment” show that smoking skyrocketed in San Francisco, following a flavor ban in 2018, while smoking rate continued to decline in nearby districts.  San Francisco subsequently banned e-cigarettes, entirely.

He said even pharmaceutical companies use flavors in promoting nicotine gum.  “It comes in fruit, mint and menthol flavors, and is made by big pharma companies.  The gum is not available in tobacco flavor, presumably because pharma knows no adult smoker who is trying to quit would buy that, and thus it would not help anyone quit,” he said.

Gardner said that by encouraging vapers to switch back to smoking, the vape flavor ban would also lead to more deaths linked to smoking.  “It is possibly the understatement of the year.  ‘Flavor’ bans increase smoking.  Smoking kills people.  Therefore, ‘flavor’ bans kill people,” said Gardner.

Dr. John Oyston, an anesthesiologist from the University of Toronto, said vape flavor bans in several cities in the United States in fact boosted tobacco sales and created an underground market for e-cigarettes that are not regulated by the government.

“Flavor bans in the USA have increased tobacco sales. Based on some statewide bans in the USA, it has been estimated that a federal flavor ban would generate a black market worth over US$ 12 billion,” he said.

Dr. Oyston said this is why he opposes the proposed vape flavor ban in Canada as it will make vaping less attractive and lead to an increase in tobacco smoking. “Dual users will be converted back into smokers, and Canada’s 4.6 million smokers will be discouraged from trying to quit by vaping,” he said.

He said the bases put forward by Health Canada for the proposed vape flavor ban were mostly exaggerations or falsehoods, without the support of scientific evidence.

Dr. Oyston noted that in France and Belgium, vape store staff are trained and certified in providing smoking cessation advice.  “It is time to move from nicotine prohibition to harm reduction,” he said.

Dr. Roberto A. Sussman, a full-time senior researcher and lecturer at the National University of Mexico and founder of Pro-Vape Mexico, described the flavor bans as an effort by tobacco control orthodoxy to degrade the quality of e-cigarettes in a context where an outright prohibition is not possible.

“The elimination of flavors destroys the recreational aspect of vaping that allows smokers to kick the habit in an enjoyable way, as opposed to suffering the anxiety of self-imposed abstinence or the utilitarian boredom of medication,” Dr. Sussman said, adding that medicines are not designed to be fun and most smokers do not regard themselves as being sick. 

“The moment e-cigarettes become metal devices that emit a foul tasting chemical simulation of tobacco smoke, vaping will lose its attractiveness to smokers, leaving them only with the traditional options (abstinence and medication) with proven limited efficiency to quit smoking,” Dr. Sussman said.

Nancy Loucas, co-director of the Government Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), said New Zealand’s vape flavor ban for general retailers starting 11 August 2021 would cost lives and make it harder for adults desperate to quit smoking. “A full range of cigarettes and tobacco products remain widely available in supermarkets, service stations and dairies. Yet, from 11 August, adults couldn’t readily access their favorite vape flavors from those same retailers. Full access to deadly combustible cigarettes and limited access to safer alternatives is a shocking public health policy,” she said.

Denmark also plans to limit the vape flavors made available to consumers. Peter Stigaard, treasurer of the Danish Vapers Association, said the restrictions would deprive consumers of the benefits of tobacco harm reduction, or the use of less harmful smoke-free alternatives to combustible cigarettes.  “The people smoking in Denmark are not going to be introduced to tobacco harm reduction in their everyday life. Most of them don’t even know that vaping or snus or other alternatives exist,” he said.

Chris Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at Institute of Economic Affairs, said US billionaire Michael Bloomberg put aside $160 million to ban e-cigarette flavors in the United States and other countries. “We know that an e-cigarette flavor ban amounts to de facto ban on vaping, for most e-cigarette users,” he said. “I do feel that we’ve gone backward.”

Bengt Wiberg, founder of the consumer movement “EU for Snus” and CEO of Sting Free AB, said flavorization is extremely important, not only for smokeless tobacco but also for all of THR products.

“I think we should research what safer nicotine products appeal to certain people or categories of people. For India, it might be the beetlenut taste. For Italians, it might be the pizza tastes and so on. That’s how we more rapidly make people move down the risk continuum, reducing the risk by leaving smoking behind,” said Wiberg.

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