ETHRA is a group of 21 consumer associations in 16 European countries, representing approximately 27 million consumers across Europe and supported by scientific experts in the field of tobacco control or nicotine research. It does not receive financial support from the tobacco or vape business sectors.
ETHRA’s mission is to give consumers of safer nicotine products a voice and to ensure that the full harm reduction potential of safer nicotine products is not hindered by inappropriate regulation. As a consequence of this, the organisation is lending its support to partner Dutch advocacy group Acvoda and all vapers in the Netherlands.
The group wrote the letter to Blokhuis, “in response to the announcement that the Netherlands intends to ban flavours for e-cigarettes, with the exception of tobacco flavour. We saw in the press release that this is in response to concerns about youth initiation and we thought we should outline some reasons as to why we feel this ban is inappropriate.”
“Vaping is successful at helping adult smokers - like so many of us - to quit. This is borne out by data from Belgium, France, Ireland and the UK. Having a wide variety of flavours is intrinsic to the success of vaping products: the ability to tailor vaping to individual tastes plays a very important role in its effectiveness at drawing people away from smoking. The evidence in this area is clear, showing that whilst many people start vaping with a tobacco flavour, over time they gravitate towards fruit, dessert and sweet flavours.”
They referred Blokhuis to the Friedman-Xu study that we covered last week, where the researchers demonstrated flavoured eliquids help adults to quit tobacco use better than the plain tobacco flavours the Minister for Health favours.
“Banning or restricting flavours will have a disastrous effect on smoking cessation, effectively removing the products responsible for huge reductions in smoking prevalence from the market. Non-tobacco flavours help to disassociate smokers from the taste of tobacco and so lessen the chances of relapse to smoking,” the letter continues.
“The added danger with limiting or banning flavours is that consumers are then forced to use the black market to obtain the product they need. This was the experience in Estonia where a flavour ban and high taxation led to an explosion of black-market products, reported to account for 62-80% of all sales. In response, Estonia recently amended its legislation and now allows menthol flavour to be sold.”
As we also covered recently, ETHRA tells him that the experience of flavour bans in the United States has resulted in a flourishing black market, and experts have predicted that this unregulated juice source is set to boom with further restriction – benefiting organised crime and making criminals of ex-smokers who simply wish to use a safer form of nicotine.
ETHRA notes flavour bans also come with inherent health risks: “Consumers turn to unregulated products or mix their own e-liquids with food flavourings not suited for vaping. Oil based flavours in particular could present a significant health hazard. Inexperienced vapers driven to mix their own flavoured liquids may not be aware that e-liquid flavourings are water soluble, and in their desperation could add oil-based food flavourings to their liquids, without realising the inherent danger this poses.”
Perversely, the Netherlands has been experiencing success on two fronts, making a mockery of Blokhuis’ fear of teen epidemics. On one hand youth smoking rates are at an historic low and continue to decline, (from 2.1% in 2017 to 1.8% in 2019), while on the other teen vaping has also been experiencing declines: “Between 2015 and 2019 there was a decrease in the percentage of young people aged 12 to 16 who have ever used an e-cigarette; from 34% in 2015 to 25% in 2019.”
ETHRA tells him that it is adult smokers “who will be adversely affected by these measures”. Dutch adult smoking is a high 23%. ETHRA says: “This 23% represents a lot of people who could benefit greatly from switching to a less harmful product. Vaping is far less risky to health than smoking, the Royal College of Physicians stated in its 2016 report Nicotine Without Smoke that, ‘the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure’.”
“There are no circumstances in which it is better to smoke than to vape and so keeping vaping products attractive for smokers, to encourage them to switch, can only be a win for public health. Having a wide variety of flavours is crucial to vaping’s success at winning over dependent smokers. We share your commitment to health prevention and promotion but fear that banning flavours will not serve that purpose.”
At the same time, the New Nicotine Alliance is calling on vapers across Europe to support a Dutch petition against the ban: “Please sign and share this petition against the proposed Dutch e-liquid flavour ban. Anyone can sign. Please remember to confirm your signature in the email you get sent afterwards.”
The text is in Dutch only, so the NNA has provided screenshots showing the English translation. The petition is linked below.