Flavours are intrinsic to the success of vaping products as a harm reduction tool. This is the vital piece of information that was missing from the 8 November meeting of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer. Debate at the meeting was focussed on compromise amendments to the Rapporteur’s Draft report, which could include banning certain flavours, see our article here. This has prompted ETHRA to write to all BECA members to outline the importance of flavours in smoking cessation, and to urge BECA to give serious consideration to the unintended consequences a ban on flavours would have. Our letter is below.
Dear BECA member,
I am writing on behalf of the European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (ETHRA) because we understand that the BECA committee is currently considering amendments to the BECA draft report. ETHRA is the voice of 27 million EU consumers of safer nicotine products. ETHRA is a consortium of 23 grassroots consumer associations in 16 European countries, supported by experts in the field of tobacco control and nicotine research. We are a voluntary operation, with no industry funding, or conflicts of interest. Our transparency registration number is 354946837243-73.
There are increasing references to banning e-liquid flavours in the discourse around vaping in the EU. It would be disastrous if Europe’s Beating Cancer plan included suggestions for a ban on flavours for low-risk alternatives to smoking, such as vaping.
The current focus on youth use ignores the fact that the most at-risk groups for developing smoking related cancers are citizens who are elderly and middle aged. Concerns about a possible gateway effect are understandable but the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. Vaping is a gateway out of smoking and has helped millions of adults quit smoking. We also know that a primary risk factor for youth smoking is whether someone in the family smokes, so allowing adults to use appealing products to quit smoking is actually preventative against youth smoking.
When considering changes to the availability of vaping products it will be crucial to examine the potential impact. In San Francisco, the consequence of banning flavoured vaping products was a significant rise in youth smoking: almost double from that in neighbouring districts without a ban. Other potential negative consequences include people using unregulated products (the black market), or home mixing using flavourings not suitable for inhalation. It is clear to us that the potential unintended consequences of a vape flavour ban in the EU have not been examined.
It would also be important to examine the benefits of flavours. The ETHRA survey conducted last year, which attracted over 37,000 respondents, showed that 94.6% of current vapers use non-tobacco flavours, indicating that they are crucial for quitting smoking. The importance of flavours for displacing smoking is also borne out in the data from Special Eurobarometer 506,which found that fruit flavours were the preference for adults who had completely switched from smoking to vaping.
Flavours in e-liquids are complex formulations, usually containing a blend of flavourings. Regulating flavour descriptors, rather than flavours, would make more sense. However, extreme caution would still need to be taken over considering which descriptors are “child appealing”, to minimise negative consequences to the adults who are most at risk of developing smoking related disease.
We did not want to burden you with a long letter today, but for more detailed discussion of these issues we urge you to read the recent letter from 15 past presidents of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco and also our submissions, especially those for the Tobacco Products Directive, which are accessible from this page.
ETHRA and NNA Ireland
Children are more likely to smoke if their parents smoke
Action on Smoking and Health Young people and smoking, September 2019
San Francisco ban on flavours resulted in doubling of youth smoking [link]
For an extensive discussion on flavours and youth appeal, including flavour descriptors
ETHRA survey [link]
Special Eurobarometer 506 [link, link]
Letter from 15 ex-presidents of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
Balancing Consideration of the Risks and Benefits of E-Cigarettes
European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (ETHRA) submissions