E-cigarettes are a controversial subject that creates just as much debate as a football match between rivals at the pub. Over the past decade, we have seen shifting trends as the industry products have changed. To curb the youth vaping epidemic which is sweeping the nation and featuring heavily in news worldwide as countries clamp down on the issue, will this problem lead to a flavour vape ban in the UK? Or does the problem lie elsewhere?
What started out as a simple like-for-like swap for smoking has quickly become a cultural trend. And at the forefront of that debate is the argument about flavoured vapes, and in particular disposable vapes. These compact and lightweight throwaway devices are available in thousands of different colours, flavours and nicotine strengths. And when you add the thousands of refillable e-liquid bottle options too, you can understand why a trend is forming.
Are the UK Government Planning a Nationwide Ban on Vape Flavours?
You may have seen an article or several from various media outlets about the government’s plans to stop selling e-liquid flavours and disposables. To stop the young people of today from starting a new unhealthy habit, it’s natural they’re looking at the temptation stemming from flavours. At the time of writing, despite reports back in March 2023 suggesting UK Public Health Minister Neil O’Brien would consider a ban, as of yet this hasn’t happened.
With the rise of young people using social media sites like TikTok to show off their cool vape products and all the different flavours available, many are calling for that ban. But at the same time, there is nowhere near as much bad press about smoking. This after all was the reason e-cigarettes entered the market in the first place.
Why Have Flavours Become an Issue?
This is the question everyone wants the answer to because it’s creating a big divide. On the one hand, you have potentially millions of teens getting their hands on vapes (many underage). And the reason for this may be because of the attractive nature of flavoured devices and e-liquids. When you have flavours like bubblegum or watermelon, you can understand why they pose a risk.
It’s completely understandable that the government wants to prevent this from happening, hooking a new generation on to nicotine when they have plans to stop smoking and nicotine addiction altogether by 2030. However, are the tons of flavours the reason for this?
Youth vaping is a big problem but so is teenagers smoking cigarettes, which still occurs all around the world. And because smoking causes roughly eight million deaths a year, and vaping that we know of from early research is not linked to death, it’s strange to see such a backlash against vaping, which is considered a better alternative by medical professionals.
Can Banning Flavours Help or Hinder Smoking Addiction?
The UK government has had a clear plan for some time now to hopefully stop smoking by 2030 (smoking prevalence of 5% or less). So could the ban on flavours for vaping help this? Well, if they did ban fruity flavours, for example, it could help with reducing youths’ vaping illegally. Which would be great news. But at the same time, where would they turn to if they wanted to break the rules and try something new that their friends are doing? Like before e-cigarettes, they would likely turn to smoking.
And there is no guarantee regarding adults of legal age that banning flavours is the answer either. As studies show, many use flavours as a motivating factor to move away from cigarettes. Smoking dulls the senses and is not considered tasty by many who smoke. It is the addiction to nicotine which is keeping them coming back, and that lack of familiarity with flavour, which is also lost when eating and drinking if you smoke!
Studies also highlight that vape flavours didn’t turn people back to smoking, which is sometimes the message coming out of the media (that vaping acts as a gateway to smoking). As stated by Professor Ann McNeill of Kings College London, the barriers to their use (vapes) by smokers need to be removed. And a flavour ban would be a major barrier, which will more than likely turn many back to smoking.
If the UK government want to see their target of 5% smoking prevalence by 2030 achieved, a flavour ban on vapes could cause a negative downturn in e-cigarette numbers and in turn see cigarettes on the rise once more. While both are bad for your health, smoking is considered much worse for overall health, it’s more expensive and increases issues regarding the NHS. In 2020, ASH created a survey on flavours and after asking many vapers, received results that 74% stick to the same flavours. If that was taken away from them, it could cause serious consequences moving forward.
Flavours remain the most popular among adults and young people that vape and there is no real evidence to suggest that it impacts health equal to smoking. If a ban passed in parliament and significantly reduced youth vaping numbers, smoking numbers among youth and all adults, that’s fantastic for all concerned. However, if it leads to an increase in cigarette use once again, this would be damaging to human health, the environment and the economy.