Last week, the residents of San Francisco voted in favour of a ban on the sale of all flavoured tobacco products; so-called “characterising flavours” (which means any flavour except good old plain tobacco) will be outlawed. This ban has been mainly aimed at preventing smoking by stopping the sale of menthol cigarettes, which are the most popular among African-American smokers– 85% prefer them over regular tobacco cigarettes. Presumably the authorities naively believe that all these menthol smokers will now decide en masse to quit smoking altogether? Obviously that isn’t going to happen and you’d also think that in America (of all countries) they should have realised by now that prohibition doesn’t work- but at least all those menthol smokers will now have the opportunity to try vaping, right?
The bad news for San Franciscan vapers is that in the USA, e-liquid is classed as a tobacco product, so the ban will also apply to all flavoured e-liquids too. This move will affect both cartridge and refillable tank users and has been strenuously supported by anti-vape activists, who lobbied hard to get their way over the issue; in their moral panic, they mistakenly see e-cigs and their flavourings as a way for Big Tobacco to lure youngsters into smoking by enticing them with candy and dessert flavours. Here in the UK, this argument has been refuted for a while now, because all of the objective evidence suggests that there simply isn’t a vaping epidemic among teenagers; the latest ASH Smokefree Youth Survey published in 2017 shows 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.”
So how important are flavourings to successful smoking cessation and vaping- are they a really crucial part of the whole experience? After all, there can’t be many of us who started smoking cigarettes because of their flavour; my own initiation into smoking at the tender age of 14 involved a pack of ten Players Number 6 which, to be honest, tasted like rancid damp old socks. I really had to force myself to smoke them and in spite of their foul taste making me physically sick, I persisted and became a regular smoker for 32 years.
Like many a new vaper, I started on tobacco flavours while I was finding my way, because I felt that I would miss the flavour of a cigarette; despite never really liking their taste, cigarettes had been my friends for years. I didn’t start vaping (or smoking) for flavour- the nicotine and throat hit were more important to me- I just wanted something that would satisfy my cravings and give me an experience that was as close to smoking as possible. I was wrong though- by the end of my first week of vaping I had stopped smoking completely, but the taste of my tobacco flavoured e-liquid was disappointing. I had developed a flavour curiosity and so I went to the local vape shop and bought a bottle of T-juice Red Astaire– an excellent choice as it turned out, because its strong and punchy flavour was just what I needed at the time to stop me relapsing back onto the stinkies. It’s surely easy to understand why I preferred the strong cherry-menthol taste over a poor imitation of tobacco, but a very simple fact seems to have escaped the anti-vape campaigners of San Francisco: flavours are enjoyed by adults too.
While many people might assume that most vapers enjoy tobacco flavours, this was not the case among participants in a study carried out by Dr. Konstantinos Farsolinos, a leading research scientist and public health expert. He found that most e-cig users reported preferring sweet or fruit flavoured e-liquids over tobacco flavours and while many vapers had used tobacco flavoured e-cigs in the past, it was usually only temporary while they adjusted to e-cig technology; once they had become comfortable with vaping, they moved on to explore other flavours. Around 70% of vapers in the study said that they changed flavours daily and some used multiple flavours throughout the day. Current smokers were more likely to exclusively use tobacco flavours, but the ex-smoking vapers were more likely to switch between fruit and sweet flavours. This evidence is reinforced by a 2017 ASH survey of e-cigarette use by adults in Great Britain, which found that fruit flavours have now overtaken tobacco as the most commonly used flavour by e-cigarette users.
These days, if I don’t really enjoy a new flavour, I won’t vape it. I do give some flavours the time to grow on me, but if I don’t love it after a day of vaping it, I will pour it down the sink and recycle the bottle. After nearly 5 years of vaping, I now view my nicotine addiction in the same way as my caffeine addiction; I won’t buy nasty tasting instant coffee just to get my caffeine fix and neither will I vape unpleasant flavours to appease my nicotine addiction- I have a choice now, which is why I love vaping so much (I even know of people who choose to vape unflavoured e-liquids). But while flavours alone don’t reduce cravings, there is overwhelming evidence that flavoured e-liquids play a positive role for vapers who are in the process of quitting smoking. As a DIY mixer, an e-liquid flavour ban would not affect me because I could continue mixing my own e-liquid with flavour concentrates in my usual way, but the choices would be reduced for all those people who are switching to vaping to escape from using dangerous tobacco cigarettes. If anything, the San Francisco ban will only help to protect tobacco sales.
We’d be interested to hear your views on flavourings. What was the first flavour that you actually enjoyed when you started vaping? Did e-liquid flavourings play a big part in helping you kick the smoking habit and would you go back to smoking if flavoured e-liquids were no longer available?