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Restricting flavoured vapes could harm smoking cessation efforts, finds study

Press release issued: 13 June 2024

Restricting the choice of flavoured vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, could have an adverse effect on the many adults who use them to reduce or quit smoking, according to a new University of Bristol-led study published in the journal Harm Reduction.

In March/April 2023, the proportion of children experimenting with vaping had grown by 50 per cent year on year, from one in 13 to one in nine1. Concerns about children becoming hooked on vapes has led the UK government to consider banning flavours to make them less attractive to young people.

Some countries have already restricted the sale of flavoured e-liquids, allowing only tobacco and menthol flavours. While these restrictions aim to reduce the appeal of vaping they may affect adults who use vapes to stop smoking.

In this study, researchers aimed to understand how UK adults who smoke, or used to smoke and now vape, feel about unflavoured e-liquids and how potential flavour restrictions might impact them. The team recruited 24 adults ranging in age from 19 to 62 years. Of these, 12 adults smoked daily and 12 adults vaped daily but had stopped smoking within a year prior to the study (as daily vaping is strongly associated with smoking cessation). The group included two adults who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day and  two adults who vaped daily but used to smoke 20 or more cigarettes per day.

Participants were asked to use an unflavoured vape for four hours instead of their usual flavoured e-liquid. They were then asked to complete a survey and participate in an online interview giving their thoughts on whether they would be tempted to use them again.

Results found the participants had mixed opinions about unflavoured e-liquids. While some felt unaffected by the lack of flavours, others thought it might lead them back to smoking. Many of the participants described the unflavoured e-liquids as unenjoyable or thought they were ‘alright’.

Overall, while many participants thought flavours played a crucial role in their vaping behaviour, especially in trying to quit smoking, other factors like nicotine dependence, social influences – given vaping’s trendy image –  and health perceptions were noted as important drivers. Participants in this study generally believed a flavour ban would negatively impact smoking cessation efforts more than it would prevent young people from vaping.

Dr Jasmine Khouja, the study’s lead author and lecturer at Bristol’s School of Psychological Science and a member of the University’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG), said: “While flavour restrictions might reduce youth vaping, our interview responses suggest that they could also discourage adults from using e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, potentially leading those who vape return to smoking and leading more people who currently smoke to continue smoking. There are also concerns that people may try and get flavours from abroad or make their own flavours, which may expose them to toxicants or chemicals that have not been approved for use in vapes.

“Policymakers need to consider these varied impacts if the UK government decide to ban flavours in vapes.“ 

The study was funded by funded by the UK Health Security Agency (formerly known as Public Health England (PHE)). The researchers received funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK).


Exploring the opinions and potential impact of unflavoured e-liquid on smoking cessation among people who smoke and smoking relapse among people who previously smoked and now use e-cigarettes: findings from a UK-based mixed methods study’ by Jasmine N. Khouja et al. in Harm Reduction [open access]

Further information

Action on Smoking and Health: Use of e-cigarettes (vapes) among young people in Great Britain 

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