Paul Meller: Flavours help people quit, banning them is a mistake

World Vapers’ Alliance founder, Paul Meller, speaks about the upcoming flavour ban proposal in the Netherlands and looks through his own experience as a vaper at the reasons why such a ban will not work.

By this time next year Dutch citizens will be forbidden from buying flavoured vape juices. That’s right. The country where you can legally purchase marijuana on almost every high street in the land, has decided to outlaw the sale of vape juices containing fruit flavours. In fact, all flavours except tobacco.

The decision, taken in June by the government, comes as the US rolls out similar restrictions. Other EU countries are looking to do the same. Denmark is trying, and Belgium is expected to draft new curbs on vaping flavours.

This is what happens when lawmakers wade in on a public health issue without examining the scientific evidence. When the State Secretary for public health, Paul Blokhuis announced the flavour ban he said its aim was to make vaping less attractive to kids.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s already illegal to sell e-cigarettes, vape juices and other vaping kit to kids under 18 throughout the European Union. It would make much more sense to enforce the existing age limits than adopt another deterrent to kids – and one that has consequences for people like me who have turned to vaping as a way of kicking a decades long, dangerous smoking habit.

Was Mr Blokhuis ever a teenager himself? It doesn’t sound like it. I first started smoking cigarettes around the age of 16. I did it because it was cool, against school rules and most important, it made me feel like an adult.

If I were 16 today I’d probably be looking for similar thrills. Vaping bubblegum flavoured juice, or Mango, or cheesecake would be naff and childish. I’d actually want my vape to smell and taste like tobacco. Or better still, I’d be very curious about vaping THC.

That’s what happened in the US. The kids that contracted the misleadingly named EVALI (e-cigarette and vaping product use-associated lunch injury) weren’t vaping Mango Tango, or Cherry Cola. They were vaping pods containing black market THC laced with vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent.

The Center for Disease Control branded the disease EVALI in August last year because they assumed that vaping was the cause. Earlier this year, and with far less of a fanfare, they corrected themselves by acknowledging that legally sold vape juice was not the cause of the disease.

Incidentally, the US states where cannabis (including THC vape juice) is legal saw a far smaller incidence of EVALI among teenagers than in the states where cannabis hasn’t been legalised.

What about that other important constituency – adults trying to quit smoking? Flavours make it easier for smokers to switch. Again, the supporters of flavour bans like the one being adopted in the Netherlands show that they have no idea about what’s going on in the mind of a reluctant smoker.

Apart from the obvious physical addiction to nicotine, smoking is a habit, ritual even. Back in the day, I used to light up whenever I picked up the phone, walked out the house or of course when I entered a pub.

The relationship between a smoker and his or her smokes is a complicated one. Many smokers need a replacement habit to quit. Vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking according to widely accepted medical experts at Public Health England.

I started vaping seriously a year ago. Since then I have several vape pods on the go at once, all with different flavours. It helps keep it interesting, which helps distract from the ever- present temptation to puff on a cigarette.

More important still, the last thing I want is to be reminded of the taste of tobacco. Flavoured vapes are something completely different to smoking. And that’s the way me and many fellow vapers want it. The more outlandish the flavour the better – as long as it doesn’t taste of tobacco.

Flavours, therefore help me create new habits to replace the ones I had as a smoker. It’s a new start and the flavours are an essential element.

One interesting point from Mr Blokhuis’s statement in June was his reasoning for allowing tobacco flavoured vape juice. Tobacco flavors are exempted from the ban, he said, so that smokers can continue to use e-cigarettes to quit.

You are right there Mr Blokhuis. Vaping can and does help people to quit smoking. It is the most effective tobacco harm reduction tool out there. So why make it harder for smokers to make the switch? The Dutch flavour ban is ill-conceived. It pushes shut the exit door to smoking addiction for the estimated three million smokers in the Netherlands.

And at the same time it will have minimal impact on the kids it seeks to protect.