Netherlands further tightens ban on all non-tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes

The Netherlands is bringing in stricter flavour bans in an attempt to curb youth vaping.

Though the country is usually considered quite permissive, with a relatively laissez-faire attitude, the state secretary for health, welfare and sport, Maarten van Ooijen, has issued a new regulation that amends the Tobacco and Smoking Products Regulation.

This adjusted regulation caps the total number of possible additives used to flavour vape liquids – regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not – to 16 specific chemicals or compounds. These 16 would allow only 25% of the currently marketed tobacco-flavoured products.

The move further restricts the other ban that took effect this year, which prohibits all non-tobacco-flavoured e-cigarette products.

These new regulations have been in effect since 1st January 2023. Production of affected products must comply with the new regulations as of 1st July, and retailers will be given a grace period to sell out these products by 1st October.


For a smoke-free generation


The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) of the Netherlands has reviewed the 23 permitted flavourings used to make up tobacco flavours in e-liquids and other smokeless tobacco and related products, such as nicotine pouches.

Of the 23 flavourings, the government has now banned seven of them. The RIVM is also keen to prohibit the remaining 16, but so far there has been no decision, as the agency acknowledges they’re thought to be harmful but that sufficient research is not yet conclusive on the matter.

“The Dutch government would like to make e-cigarettes less attractive, particularly to young people,” the RIVM said. “E-cigarettes contain flavourings to make the product more appealing. Users particularly like sweet flavours and fruit flavours. Accordingly, the government has only allowed flavourings with a tobacco taste.”

These bans are part of the government’s effort to achieve its objective that “a smoke-free generation will be achieved by 2040”. The goal is to eliminate smoking or tobacco use by all young people and all but 5% of the adult population.


An ‘exceptionally flawed’ approach?


But banning flavours could lead to that target being missed, according to Maria Chaplia, research manager at the US-based Consumer Choice Center.

“Although the motives behind these efforts are noble, the approach is exceptionally flawed,” she said. “Vape flavours play a crucial role in helping smokers quit, as they make vaping seem like an attractive cessation tool and ensure that vapers are not incentivised to return to smoking.

“Sweet and, more generally, non-tobacco vape flavours are associated with higher quitting rates,” Chaplia said. “A recent study found that if vape flavours are restricted, a third of current vapers might take up smoking again. Last year, we at the Consumer Choice Center conducted a research study to quantify the effects of vape flavour bans, and we found that some 260,000 Dutch vapers might return to smoking if the ban is in place.

“Considering that over a million people in the Netherlands died from smoking-related diseases between 1950 and 2015, the number is significant,” she said.

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    “Instead of seeking to regulate or potentially ban vape flavours,” Chaplia said, “the Dutch government should endorse vaping and celebrate the many opportunities that vape flavours bring to public health efforts.”


    Industry warns of unforeseen consequences


    Industry groups are also alarmed at the unintended consequences of the proposed legal changes.

    Emil ’t Hart, president of Esigbond, a Dutch e-cigarette trade association, told ECigIntelligence: “To help cigarette smokers quit smoking, an appropriate and attractive alternative must be available.

    “Flavours help with this. Without a suitable alternative, the smoker continues to smoke. Flavours ensure that the smoker gets rid of the tobacco taste. Our research also shows that e-cigarette users fall back on their old habits.”

    Hart said that the recent anti-smoking policy in the Netherlands had increased smoking and warned that further restrictions would likely lead people to buy their e-liquids abroad or from unregulated sources.

    “If the government adopts the advice of the RIVM, this will end the legal trade in e-cigarettes in the Netherlands,” Hart said. “The exhaustive list makes it impossible to continue producing the available tobacco flavours. Also, all forms of innovation are restricted for the future.”


    Other restrictions planned to reach smoke-free goal


    Meanwhile, the Dutch government intends to implement various regulatory controls to try and achieve its smoke-free targets. Among these are a substantial increase in excise duties and duties on vaping products for the first time (envisaged from 2024).

    They also include a display ban, neutral packaging, and extending the prohibitions on advertising and smoking in public places to add vaping and other non-conventional delivery methods to the list of banned products. These are to be combined with intensive anti-tobacco campaigns to be funded by the hike in taxes.

    These rules are being implemented regardless of delivery method, with e-cigarettes, vapes, vaporisers, electric heating devices and the like falling under the same umbrella as other tobacco products to ensure children do not encounter novel tobacco products, as by the National Prevention Agreement.

    To prevent loopholes from being exploited – for example, selling “aromas” that are marketed to be mixed with nicotine/tobacco/etc to avoid coming under the heading of the law (and therefore out of bounds due to the presence of flavourings) – the government plans to create two overarching categories into which all nicotine-related products will be separated: “cigarettes” and “smokeless tobacco products and related products”.

    The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport is drawing up further regulations to “prevent these products from becoming popular”.

    – James De Lise ECigIntelligence contributing writer

    Photo: Charl van Rooy

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    This article was written by one of ECigIntelligence’s international correspondents. We currently employ more than 40 reporters around the world to cover individual vaping markets. For a full list, please see our Who We Are page.

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