Study: Flavored Vapor Products Are Key To Transitioning Smokers Off Cigarettes

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A new study is backing up evidence that flavored nicotine products for electronic cigarettes, which are currently under threat from U.S. regulators, are crucial to helping smokers successfully quit cigarettes.

Research appearing Monday in the Harm Reduction Journal found that discouraging the sale and use of flavored vapor products may make it harder to quit cigarettes and dissuade smokers from ever switching to vaping. The study, conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research (CSUR), included a survey of 20,836 U.S. adults considered regular e-cigarette users, nearly 16,000 of which said they had completely transitioned off cigarettes by using a vaping device.

They were found to rely heavily on flavored vape liquid to help disassociate from the taste of tobacco and maintain their smoking abstinence. (RELATED: CASAA Calls For Comments On FDA Plan To Regulate Flavors)

“This new survey of more than 20,000 adult vapers will inform comments we’ll submit to the FDA on why non-tobacco flavors are important for those adult smokers or ex-smokers who vape as an alternative to combustible tobacco,” James Campbell, senior communications manager at Fontem Ventures, the makers of Blue e-cigarettes, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Fruit-flavored e-liquid proved the runaway favorite among users, accounting for up to 82.9 percent of regular vape liquid purchases. Dessert and pastry flavoring was the next preference of regular vapers, followed by candy and sweets.

Tobacco flavors ranked fifth on the preferred flavors list, followed by menthol.

“The declining popularity of tobacco flavors among adult vapers strongly suggests that flavor bans like the one recently passed in San Francisco, could see vapers return to cigarette smoking and discourage other adult smokers from switching,” Dr. Grant O’Connell, manager of corporate affairs at Fontem Ventures, said in a statement Monday.

The U.S. vaping industry is currently rallying former smokers who quit by using an e-cigarette to share their stories with federal regulators in response to a proposed rule from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco and nicotine flavoring, something users and harm reduction experts fear is a veiled attempt to cripple the market for alternative products and technologies. (RELATED: A Majority Of Adult Smokers Now Believe Vaping Is More Hazardous To Their Health Than Cigarettes)

The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and The Global Vaping Standards Association (GVSA) are both leading the efforts, encouraging any users of alternative technologies and smokeless products to submit comments to the FDA on how flavors helped them make the switch from combustible cigarettes, which continue to be the number one cause of preventable death worldwide.

Testimonial submissions to the FDA must be sent through their website by July 19.

It remains unclear what action the FDA may take on flavors, however, recent rhetoric from Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has users concerned. Gottlieb, speaking at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago on June 2, said he has been “disappointed” with the response from the vaping industry since the agency began seeking public input on flavors in March.

He said vapor companies “better step up and step up soon,” fearing the devices are having a negative impact on teens. Many of the biggest names in the vapor market, however, have made public efforts to show their commitment to keeping the devices away from minors.

JUUL Labs for example announced in April an investment of $30 million over the next three years that will go toward funding independent research into the “scientific and societal implications of vapor products.” They are currently working with Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa and a group of public health officials to develop a “transparent” framework for conducting independent research.

JUUL will also back legislation raising the minimum purchasing age on tobacco and nicotine products to 21, although industry experts note this will do little to address access for youths, who typically get the products through third parties like a parent or sibling.

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health and the Centre for Health Policy at the Imperial College in London published a study in September 2017 investigating the impact flavor restrictions may have on e-cigarette use. The scientists found that a ban on e-cigarette flavors in the U.S. would reduce the use of vaping devices by more than 10 percent, suggesting users would default back to more harmful cigarettes.

Harm-reduction experts say an FDA intervention into flavored products risks upending the vapor industry and hurting smokers who have successfully quit with e-cigarettes.

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