E-cigarette flavours – especially sweet and fruit flavours – are prime weapons in a devilish plot by the tobacco and vaping industries to hook a generation of innocent children into a lifetime’s dependency on nicotine, right? That may be putting it slightly more strongly, but it’s essentially what public health groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Lung Association and myriad others take every opportunity to hammer home.
The counter argument, that flavours are crucial to attracting smokers away from combustibles and then keeping them away, also tends to come repeatedly from a cast of usual suspects, many of them e-liquid manufacturers and retailers, who can hardly be considered objective or disinterested commentators.
So it comes as a refreshing change to encounter a campaigning health charity making a clear argument that general retailers should be permitted to sell e-liquids in fruit and other sweet flavours, and not be limited to tobacco, mint and menthol.
That charity, ASH New Zealand, has been campaigning since the early 1980s against what it calls “the toll of smoked tobacco”. And, unlike the US groups named above, it understands that e-cigarettes are neither tobacco nor smoked.
Intended and unintended consequences
In its submission to the New Zealand Health Select Committee on the pending Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill – which it praises as “a world-leading and bold piece of legislation” – ASH Action for Smokefree 2025 says: “Forty years of tobacco control experience has taught ASH many lessons. We have seen how policies that have reduced smoking rates have often had greatest benefits for the most privileged, and the least deprived, resulting in increases in smoking-related inequity. This outcome has given us cause to reflect on the intended and unintended consequences of our 40-year journey and consider how to implement the proposed bold policies in a fair and empathetic way.”
And it is in this enlightened mood that it tackles the vexed issue of flavours: “There is good evidence that use of fruit and other sweet flavoured e-liquids is positively related to smokers’ transition away from cigarettes. International evidence from four countries concluded those using sweet flavours were 1.6 times more likely to stay smokefree, whereas menthol flavour users were less likely to stay smokefree. We consider that the current restrictions to tobacco, mint and menthol flavour vapes in general stores is counterproductive and in opposition to the evidence. Therefore undermining quit smoking attempts. Allowing two popular fruit flavours more accurately reflects the types of product that ex-smokers use to remain smokefree.”
But before you get the idea that ASH NZ is recommending any kind of free-for-all, it goes on: “The desired outcome is that general retailers (such as dairies and convenience stores) can provide former smokers with more controlled tamper-proof closed pod vaping flavours they enjoy and keep them off smoking whilst avoiding the rise in micro-vape stores that sell a range of products but without the depth of support that a dedicated specialist store offers. Likewise, it also ensures better controls over visibility and access to vaping products for young people.”
It may come as no great surprise to fair-minded observers of global politics to find a more balanced, more thoughtful, less strident approach being expressed in New Zealand than among apparently similar groups in the US. But there, ladies and gentlemen, is another piece of evidence.
– Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff