Netherlands: Government hypocrisy will send STOPtober up in smoke

STOPtober is upon us, and the Dutch government is encouraging people to quit smoking to change their lives for the better. While quitting cold turkey works for some, 95% of smokers trying to quit cold turkey fail in their attempt. What’s strange is that while encouraging people to quit, the government is making it harder to do so by banning one of the most effective means: flavoured e-cigarettes.

The science on vaping is clear: e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking and they are one of the most successful and efficient means for smokers to quit. Yet in the midst of a national campaign to encourage smokers to quit, the government is proposing that flavoured e-cigarettes be banned in a misguided effort to tackle youth vaping.

Flavoured e-cigarettes play a vital role for smokers who want to quit. Adult consumers, who have used vaping to quit smoking say that flavours, other than tobacco, were a decisive factor in preventing them from returning to smoking. By using flavoured e-liquids they are 230% more likely to quit smoking than if using tobacco-flavoured ones.

According to a recent report, “Why Vape Flavors Matter?”, banning flavours could force a quarter of a million former smokers in the Netherlands to take up the habit once again. Any attempt to ban flavours or deny smokers access to alternatives must be repealed.

In 2007, nearly a quarter of the Dutch population smoked daily. That number is down to 16% in 2018 and continues to trend downwards. Banning flavoured e-cigarettes risks slamming the brakes on this great progress and achieve the complete opposite effect of STOPtober by making it more challenging for smokers to kick the habit.

As an international observer, the Netherlands has always been viewed as an open society, skeptical of unnecessary regulation and prohibition but not on this occasion. If one arm of the government is not speaking to the other, we end up with illogical rules, working against the core objective of key government health campaigns.

In the spirit of STOPtober, I’m urging State Secretary for Health, Paul Blokhuis to give up this ideological approach. Give up this misguided ban on flavours and work toward the real goal of reducing the harm caused by smoking by accepting pragmatic solutions which will have a real positive impact. That would be a victory for public health, pragmatism and the fight against smoking.