A major characteristic of the e-cigarette market is the availability of a large number of different flavoured e-liquids. This causes concern for some policy makers who worry that certain flavours may be specifically targeted at young people and that ultimately this could lead to young people taking up e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke actual cigarettes.
The good news is that there is no evidence to support these concerns.
Commenting on Action on Smoking and Health’s (ASH) latest research, Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said: “There is no evidence from our research that e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway into smoking.” This same research showed that regular use of e-cigarettes amongst children and young people is rare and is confined almost entirely to those who currently or have previously smoked. Research undertaken by Queen Mary University in London found that a child trying a tobacco cigarette for the first time is 50 per cent more likely to become a regular smoker. The same research found no evidence that a child trying an e-cigarette for the first time goes on to become a regular vaper.
We also know from recent research that flavours are not enticing children to use e-cigarettes either.
Evidence produced by a variety of organisations including ASH and the American Cancer Society (ACS) clearly shows that flavours do not entice non-smokers to use e-cigarettes either. Researchers from the ACS found that flavours did not increase the attractiveness of e-cigarettes to teenagers. Rather, ‘Even after controlling for other statistically significant correlates, the odds of a smoker being willing to try an e-cigarette were 10 times those of a non-smoker.’ Tobacco cigarettes are the gateway to tobacco smoking, not e-cigarettes.
However for those adults who have switched to e-cigarettes, flavours are important. Why?
The key health benefit of e-cigarettes is determined by how many smokers switch to them or use them as a staging post to quitting completely. This means that e-cigarettes have to be an attractive alternative to tobacco cigarettes for established smokers. Flavouring is an important part of this as the nicotine solutions have no flavour. Removing or banning flavourings would actually reduce the appeal of e-cigarettes to smokers.
“For many (a ban on flavourings) it would be disastrous – they’ve moved away from “ciggie” flavours onto any one of dozens, in some cases, or, in many cases, they switch flavours during the day to suit their moods. This, apparently, is to get away from their taste buds becoming used to one flavour, so that every change makes it a “fresh” experience and helps them avoid going back to fags. It’s not something that bothers me, particularly, but I do know that for a very large proportion of folks, it’s a vital part of the e-cig experience. Without it, going back to cigs isn’t too much of a stretch. Folks are worried about it. The thing about e-cigs is that they’re customisable in terms of flavour, nicotine strength, diluent (and therefore vapour density) and temperature – so anyone, given the chance, can sort out for themselves something that gives them a much more attractive experience in comparison with cigarettes, the consequences of which are pretty obvious, really.”
David Dorn, e-cigarette user and commentator
In research carried out by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos and others, vapers stated that the availability of flavours was “very important” in their effort to reduce or quit smoking. This research also found that the majority of vapers would find e-cigarettes “less enjoyable” or “boring” if flavours were restricted, while 48.5 per cent of vapers stated that it would increase their cravings for tobacco cigarettes and 39.7 per cent of vapers said that without flavours it would have been less likely for them to reduce or quit smoking.
This major piece of research concluded:
- That far from marketing flavours to attract children, flavours are marketed to ‘satisfy vapers’ demand’,
- Flavours contribute to both perceived pleasure and the effort to reduce or quit smoking,
- Restrictions on flavours could cause harm to current vapers, and
- Current flavour variability must be maintained.
The proliferation of flavours reinforces that view that these are recreational consumer products, not smoking cessation aids, medicines or tobacco products.
Many politicians worry that certain flavours are created with children in mind, again this fear in unfounded. Research actually shows that adult vapers (18 – 65) prefer supposedly “juvenile” flavours.
Removing flavourings risks driving existing e-cigarette users back to tobacco cigarettes and limiting the positive discrimination between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which is a significant factor in encouraging smokers to transfer their usage to less harmful e-cigarettes. Research produced by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association found that just under two thirds of e-cigarette users would return to smoking cigarettes if the electronic version was made harder to get or was altered in some way such as through the banning of flavours.
In the UK each year 114,000 people die from tobacco related illnesses according to figures produced by the NHS.
We know that nicotine replacement therapies with their 90 per cent failure rate do not work. We also know that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes and that they enjoy widespread popularity amongst the public at large.
 Research undertaken by Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London