A growing body of research shows flavours play a critical role in attracting – and retaining – adult smokers into the vaping category, directly contributing to tobacco harm reduction and declining smoking rates. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged the importance of e-cigarette flavours in helping adult smokers transition to vaping by making it a public health research priority. There is growing evidence, including from commercial sales data, that the majority of adult smokers who transition to vaping trend towards non-tobacco e-liquid flavours over time.
Do flavours help smokers quit Cigarettes?
The data illustrates that the availability of a wide choice of e-liquid flavours is one of the factors helping adult smokers switch from combustible tobacco, underpinning declining smoking rates in countries where vaping products are widely available. Restrictions or blanket bans on the e-liquid flavours available to adult vapers are not helpful since they may undermine the use of vaping products as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. This will undermine the public health benefits of vaping over smoking.
Many vapers wish to reduce or eliminate their nicotine consumption, and flavours can support this journey over time. Low and zero nicotine products give adult smokers the opportunity to make healthier choices and reduce nicotine consumption while still allowing them the habitual enjoyment they may derive from the ritual aspects of smoking such as taking a moment to refocus or relax and replicating hand-to-mouth movements of smoking.
Regular use of different e-liquid flavours is associated with a significantly higher probability of successfully stopping smoking. A study of 4,618 e-vapour product users found 63% vary their flavours daily, noting that flavours “…appear to contribute to both perceived pleasure and the effort to reduce cigarette consumption or quit smoking”.
Evidence from cross-sectional surveys of nationally representative samples of US adults and surveys of vapers suggests that smokers tend to initiate e-vapour product use with tobacco-flavoured e-vapour products. However over time, adult smokers adopt either exclusive or predominant use of non-tobacco products as their journey with vaping evolves.
Data from the US Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study shows that the majority of daily e-vapour product users were using non-tobacco flavours. Furthermore, they were significantly more likely than moderate and infrequent users to have started e-vapour product use with a non-tobacco flavour.
Do flavours encourage non-smokers to vape?
While research show that e-liquid flavours are important to encourage higher rates of smoking cessation, evidence suggests that they are not a determinative factor in leading youth and non-smokers to start using e-vapour products.
Data shows that never smokers make up a very low proportion of regular vapers in countries like the UK where vaping has become popular. In the UK the current proportion of regular vapers that never smoked is less than 1%. There is concern that adolescent non-smokers are more likely to initiate nicotine use via vaping, especially in the US. Flavours however are not the main reason that some adolescents vape in the US with the CDC’s own analysis of 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey data showing 78% of non-adult users cite curiosity, peer-pressure or some other reason as more important than flavours.
We believe any non-adult use is unacceptable and this is why it’s vitally important that age restrictions at point of sale are rigorously enforced, and that marketing, branding, and package labelling is clear that e-liquids contain nicotine and are intended for use by adult smokers only. Flavour names, descriptors, and packaging designs should not appeal to youth or non-smokers.
The importance of e-liquid regulation and quality
It’s crucial for adult smokers and vapers to be able to trust the e-liquid they buy. Governments, regulators and health bodies must create a robust regulatory framework to ensure adult smokers can enjoy high quality vape products.
All e-liquid manufacturer should be able to scientifically stand behind their products and be able to demonstrate that they operate to a high standard of product stewardship. There are currently too many irresponsible players in the market, and this is damaging the category.