The Netherlands’ government plans to introduce legislation soon that will ban flavored vaping products (except tobacco) next year, and tax the products that remain. The news came in a letter from health minister Paul Blokhuis to the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch house of representatives.
Blokhuis told the parliament that the government would not ban tobacco flavors “in order not to discourage smokers who wish to quit smoking.” In addition to the flavor ban, the finance ministry is drafting a plan to tax e-liquid—a move supported by the health ministry. The Dutch government also supports the inclusion of vaping products in the European Union’s harmonized tobacco tax framework.
“All kinds of organizations are working very hard to make it harder to start smoking and easier to quit. This is also urgently needed because it remains unacceptable that 20 thousand people die in our country every year from the effects of smoking and about 75 children start smoking every day,” Blokhuis said, according to NL Times. “The new insights confirm that the smoke-free generation that is on its way must also be an e-cigarette-free generation. There is no room for e-cigarettes with all kinds of seductive, exotic flavors in this.”
The announcement came after the release of a health ministry-commissioned study by the Trimbos Institute that claimed vaping flavors attract teenage users, that dual use of vapes and cigarettes is worse than smoking alone, and that vaping is less safe than previously thought. The Trimbos study used typical anti-vaping arguments—and precious little real evidence—to justify the need for harsh regulations.
More than one-fourth of 12- to 16-year-olds had vaped at least once in 2017, said the Trimbos study, and “there is increasing evidence that the e-cigarette is a stepping stone to tobacco cigarettes.” The study said that teens are attracted to vaping flavors, and that the products are easily available to them.
But experimentation and occasional use aren’t the same thing as widespread habitual use among never-smokers. Few youth who have never used tobacco products are daily or even weekly vapers, and the top reasons European teenagers cite for using e-cigarettes (according to Eurobarometer) are to quit smoking and because they are less harmful than cigarettes.
The Dutch announcement coincides with a recent study from the Yale School of Public Health that found flavored vaping products were superior to tobacco flavors for cessation, and did not boost youth smoking. The Yale authors looked at data from almost 18,000 survey responses, and concluded that “vaping nontobacco-flavored e-cigarettes was not associated with increased youth smoking initiation but was associated with an increase in the odds of adult smoking cessation.”
Several previous studies have linked e-liquid flavors to success in smoking cessation. A 2018 survey of over 69,000 adult American vapers found that full-time vapers who have completely quit smoking prefer fruit and dessert flavors, and just 7.7 percent vape tobacco flavors.
In a response to the government’s plan, Dutch consumer organization Acvoda explained that flavors have always been a key for people who use vaping to successfully stop smoking. “Health policies need to be effective and the flavors in e-cigarette liquids have played an important role for our members to definitively renounce the cigarette,” said Acvoda chairman Sander Aspers. He added that a flavor ban would be “a complete insult” to vapers that use e-cigarettes to avoid smoking.
The announcement from the Netherlands might be a sign of additional trouble to come. Three European countries—Estonia, Finland and Hungary—currently have flavor bans. However, Lithuania’s parliament is close to debating flavor restrictions. And the new German drug commissioner Daniela Ludwig, who sees almost no value in e-cigarettes, is planning to review the flavor issue too, with an eye on instituting a ban.
Finally, anti-vaping groups across Europe are gearing up to push for flavor and other restrictions when the European Union revises the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) next year. Organizations like the European Respiratory Society and The Union share the same opinions and in some cases the same funders as American anti-vaping hardliners, and they are prepared to use the same tactics to get their way.