There is a great amount of misconception about flavors among the public and even among policy circles, and one would be surprised to know that flavors are actually a crucial component for an e-cigarette user to quit smoking altogether.
E-cigarettes as an effective smoking cessation tool
Numerous independent studies have provided strong evidence that the use of e-cigarettes is the most effective pathway for a typical smoker to quit the habit. Studies as recent as the Cochrane review published in October 2020, found that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes were far more effective than gums and patches. This has been confirmed by users themselves in the most recent study by Public Health England in February 2021 where smokers cited their most common reasons for using e-cigarettes as wanting to quit, stay off, and reduce smoking tobacco.
The study by Public Health England also provided insights into how fruit flavors incentivized smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.
Flavored e-cigarettes key to helping smokers
Health authorities around the world are concerned that flavored e-cigarettes might result in young people being attracted to e-cigarettes. Anecdotally, these concerns warrant careful investigation. As such, researchers from New Zealand and the United States have conducted research on this topic and have provided results that draw a negative correlation between flavor options and their impact on youth. A recent youth survey by New Zealand’s Action for Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed that despite the availability of different flavors in New Zealand, less than 1% of vapers surveyed have never smoked before. This shows that only existing smokers were interested in taking up vaping and that despite the availability of flavors in the market, youths were not particularly keen.
In another independent survey conducted by the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2019, it was reported that e-cigarette flavors were not even among the top 2 reasons as to why young people picked up the habit. In fact, over 75% of e-cigarette users revealed that flavors were not the reason for them to try e-cigarettes, thereby providing even more evidence that the issue confronting health authorities was not about the availability of flavors, but rather to close loopholes that allow youths to purchase these products in the first place.
Having different flavor options remains a big motivation and incentive for adult cigarette smokers who switch to e-cigarettes in order to quit smoking altogether.
In Public Health England’s seventh independent report last year, the executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom found that among the top Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) methods, e-cigarettes posed the highest quit rate at 74%.
This can be widely attributed to not only the flexibility that e-cigarette users have in varying nicotine consumption but more importantly, that the wide availability of flavors makes it palatable for smokers to switch to e-cigarettes and not go back to their old smoking habits. This is crucial for smokers to transition away from cigarettes most effectively.
Misinformation on flavored e-cigarettes a risk in itself
The abovementioned findings are some of the reasons why e-cigarettes flavors are key to helping smokers quit. Health authorities mistook flavors as the culprit for e-cigarette use among young people, however, the key issue is about weak regulations that prevent youths from purchasing them needs to be addressed. Legitimate adult smokers have been worried that weak laws in the wrong areas may end up hurting them more.
In a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a number of e-cigarette smoking respondents mentioned that restricting flavors might lead them to switch back to combustible cigarettes—negating any progress made by these former cigarette smokers looking to quit.
According to Martin Dockrell, the tobacco program lead at Public Health England, such a widespread relapse may even lead to an increase of adult smoking role models for the youth, which have long been proven to be a catalyst for youth smokers.
Research-backed by robust scientific data, together with strong anecdotal evidence has shown that flavors have often been a scapegoat for e-cigarette regulations. It will be a pity for authorities to overreact and throw the baby out with the bathwater when flavored e-cigarettes have been instrumental in many countries’ smoke-free targets.
It is time for authorities to appreciate that flavored e-cigarettes are not the enemy, whereas stronger regulations discouraging and preventing young persons’ access to e-cigarettes altogether are what is urgently needed.