Oct. 25, 2023 update
Five years after completing the U.S. Flavors Survey, Dr. Farsalinos and colleagues have published a peer-reviewed study based on the suvey data. The resulting paper, titled "Patterns of flavored e-cigarette use among adult vapers in the USA," appears in the Harm Reduction Journal.
American vapers who no longer smoke cigarettes prefer fruit and dessert e-liquids over other choices, according to the findings of a major survey conducted by researchers this spring. The survey assessed the flavor preferences of regular vapers.
The results of the U.S. Flavors Survey have been compiled and submitted to the FDA as a comment on the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on vape (and other “tobacco product”) flavors. Lead author Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos says the authors will also publish an analysis of the data in an academic journal.
The survey was conducted by Farsalinos and two of his colleagues from the University of Patras (Greece), and Dr. Christopher Russell from the Centre for Substance Use Research in the U.K. It was conducted through an online questionnaire, using FDA 21 CFR Part 11 compliant software. To eliminate duplicate and ineligible entries, the researchers allowed only one submission from each unique American IP address.
After eliminating duplicate entries, there were 69,233 responses. Participants came from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and 72.4 percent were male. The mean age of the group was 34.6. Almost 95 percent of survey participants had at least tried cigarettes in their lives, and 81.6 percent were established smokers at some time.
A large majority of participants — 81.3 percent — were former smokers, and 68.2 percent quit smoking more than 12 months ago. That means that the results show the preferences of experienced vapers — the kind of people who see themselves as vapers, and participate in activities that inform their understanding of vaping, like reading Vaping360, joining a forum like ECF, or visiting vape shops or vaping events.
Adult vapers tend to prefer sweet e-liquid over tobacco flavors, a fact already shown in Dr. Russell’s recent study, produced from 2016 survey data. And the new survey shows vapers with an even more pronounced preference for fruit and dessert flavors over tobacco than the 2016 one.
While 14.8 percent of the ex-smokers in the 2016 Russell data were sometime-users of tobacco flavors, just 7.7 percent of the exclusive vapers in the new survey vape tobacco. And, as in the Russell survey, even the vapers who also smoke prefer non-tobacco flavors. Just 9.1 percent of dual users (vapers who also smoke) sometimes vape tobacco flavors.
All groups in both surveys overwhelmingly prefer flavors like fruit, dessert/pastry/bakery, and candy/chocolate/sweet. The results from both the 2016 and 2018 surveys are remarkably consistent on this point. For all the hand-wringing from tobacco control groups and grandstanding politicians, it’s just a fact that adult vapers prefer what the FDA refers to as “kid-appealing” flavors.
Among former smokers, 83.2 percent vape fruit flavors at least some of the time, 72.3 percent vape dessert sometimes, and 47.7 percent vape candy. Dual users also preferred those kinds of flavors, as did never-smoking vapers. The choices were almost identical in the 2016 survey.
The results may reinforce the comments to the FDA from thousands of vapers, many of whom plead with the regulatory agency not to ban the vape flavors they used to steer clear of combustible cigarettes. Unfortunately, only about 23,000 of the comments have been reviewed and published on the Regulations.gov website so far. There are over a half-million comments waiting for review, but many of those are believed to be bot-generated spam, part of a campaign to destroy the credibility of the comment process.
Of course, proving that adult vapers like sweet flavors will not necessarily convince federal regulators that those flavors are “appropriate for the protection of the public health,” which is the standard that must be met. After all, the FDA already tried to ban flavors once, but was prevented by the Obama White House for unknown reasons. There’s no reason to think the agency has shifted course on flavors.
It won’t happen overnight, and may even take years for the agency to ban the flavors vapers love, but that seems to be the direction the FDA is heading. If the regulators do eliminate non-tobacco flavors, it will destroy the legal U.S. vaping market, which is almost entirely built on e-liquid sales. Without the thousands of e-liquid flavor options, vape shops and online retailers will have no hope of survival, and what’s left of the American vape industry will move underground..