Are vape flavours being banned?

As part of the UK Government’s attempts to create a smokefree generation and tackle youth vaping, the Conservative Government drafted new regulations for vaping products which included restricting certain vape flavours which are seen to be particularly appealing to younger vapers.

However, the recently announced general election means that the Tobacco and Vapes Bill in its current form will not be coming into UK law, and until the new government is formed we can only speculate on how the future of vaping will look.

What is the Tobacco and Vapes Bill?

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill was introduced to Parliament on 20 March 2024, and included the introduction of a generational tobacco ban along with seeking new powers to restrict vape flavours, packaging, and how and where vapes are displayed in shops. The bill also aimed to bolster enforcement agencies by allowing for on the spot fines of £100 to retailers who are caught selling tobacco and vaping products to minors.

The aim of this bill was to protect young people from the harms of tobacco, and to tackle the rise in youth vaping, following a call for evidence and consultation held last year.

The bill was the first step in the formal process before any new regulations and restrictions on vaping could come into force, a process which includes consultations, debates and opportunities for the bill to be considered and amendments made, to find the best balance between protecting children and aiding adult smokers.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on 16 April 2024, which offered the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill. Following the debate there was a vote to decide if the Bill would continue to the committee stage, which passed by 383 to 67, although 106 Tory MPs chose not to cast their vote.

The committee stage commenced in late April 2024, and was the stage at which proposed amendments to the content could be tabled. However, just as the bill was entering the report stage, which would have allowed MPs to consider further amendments, a general election was announced on 22 May 2024. Following this there was a two day ‘wash-up’ window for parliament to address any unfinished business before dissolution. This allows for outstanding bills to be rushed through the parliamentary process, and the Government will usually choose to focus on Bills that have a high likelihood of passing through the legislative procedure, sacrificing the rest. Tobacco and Vapes Bill was not included during the ‘wash-up’ period, and Parliament was prorogued on 24 May, with dissolution taking place on 30 May. This means that the bill has now been excluded from the Commons Schedule and all progress the bill has made thus far will be abandoned.

While there are certainly parts of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill which we welcomed, such as the increased power to enforcement officers and the introduction of on-the-spot fines for those retailers caught selling to minors, other aspects like the possible restriction of vape flavours felt like an overreach which could negatively impact adult smokers and vapers. The fact that the Bill is being abandoned is a welcomed announcement, as many felt that the choice to include smoking and vaping within the same bill was a mistake and caused the many oversteps of the proposed vaping regulations to be hidden behind the generational smoking ban.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill felt to many as though it was being rushed through the parliamentary process which left little room for the appropriate consideration or impact assessments. The committee tasked with guiding the bill through parliament did not have balanced membership, and there was a distinct lack of representation seen from the vaping industry, resulting in many incorrect health effects of vaping being presented to the committee as fact. Should the reformed Government choose to seek powers to regulate vaping, we hope to see the process given the time, scrutiny, and assessment needed to ensure a balanced outcome for all.

What happens to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill after the general election?

As the bill was not passed during the ‘wash-up’ window and Parliament has now been dissolved, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill has effectively been abandoned. It may be reintroduced in the next parliamentary session, but it would require the bill to start completely from scratch and as we are likely to see a new government this would mean the Bill as we know is quite likely to change completely.

Rishi Sunak stated in an interview with the BBC that he was “disappointed” that the bill was not passed, as he "stepped up to do something that is bold" with the proposed introduction of a generational smoking ban. However, the smoking ban is supported by all major parties and Labour have expressed their support, and suggested this is something they intend to pursue should the election go in their favour. In fact, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) released new analysis from YouGov which found that every parliamentary constituency in Great Britain backs the generational tobacco ban, and even two thirds of 11-15 year olds, the first generation who would be affected by the ban, also back it.

It is important to note though that this support has only been expressed for the smoking ban, and not the Tobacco and Vapes Bill itself. In general, there has been very little mention of the vaping side of the bill thus far, and it is unclear whether new vaping regulations are something which will be sought in the new parliamentary session, and what they will look like if they are. However, one thing that is clear is that these regulations will not be brought in on the schedule previously proposed by the Tory Government, and so certain vape flavours will not be banned on 1 April 2025 as previously suggested.

The Conservative manifesto reveals that they plan to reintroduce the Tobacco and Vapes Bill should they be voted in, while the Liberal Democrats manifesto reveals they plan to 'halt the dangerous use of vapes by children while recognising their role in smoking cessation for adults'. The Labour manifesto is set to be released on 13 June.

The generational smoking ban is an important piece of legislation which could have truly positive health implications for future generations, but it has completely overshadowed the vaping regulations also included in the bill, and could have seen detrimental restrictions imposed hidden behind the smoking ban. The bill being abandoned allows for the opportunity for smoking and vaping to be considered as two separate entities, something which should arguably have been the case from the start.

Were the proposed vaping regulations a step too far?

While there were aspects of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill which we would have been pleased to see introduced, such as the additional powers to enforcement agencies, others, like flavour restrictions, raise concerns about the affects this could have on smoking rates. We were disappointed to see the extent to which the Government was seeking to regulate vaping products in the Bill, which included powers to not only regulate on packaging, flavours and displays, but also to regulate the size and shape of vaping products, any markings like branding and trademarks, as well as other features that help to distinguish between different brands.

These proposed regulations went far beyond what is needed to ensure vapes are not disproportionately appealing to minors, and further than the public was lead to believe. Should these regulations have come to pass it would have given the Government the power to dictate so many aspects of the size, design, and appearance of vape products that they could effectively make them indistinguishable between brands, a step that feels wholly unnecessary. Not only that but they could have potentially had a devastating impact on the health of both smokers and vapers, which is something that we surely want to avoid.

In fact, it was revealed that the Department of Health and Social Care did not actually carry out any risk assessments into the health impact that these regulations could have had should they have caused fewer people to use e-cigarettes as a stop smoking aid.

Marcus Saxton, Chairman of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, commented:

“Excessive restrictions on the types of products that our members can provide may reduce the products’ appeal, but even worse, may contribute to continued misperceptions about the harm of vaping relative to tobacco smoking. Specifically, the role of flavours in supporting adult smokers to a successful quit attempt is extensive and widespread, and therefore any reference to potential powers to permit future legislation around their use is extremely worrying, and threatening to the Government’s own goals of becoming smoke free by 2030”

UKVIA Director General John Dunne expressed the need for more consideration should these sorts of regulations be considered in future, explaining:

"It is wrong to rush any legislation through parliament without proper scrutiny but with a Bill like this, where lives are quite literally at stake, it is even more important that the correct checks and balances are in place when considering what new powers to introduce.

"We believe that properly drafted new measures to ban child-friendly designs and flavour names and ensure that products, backed up by a powerful and effective enforcement regime will continue to see smoking rates fall while ensuring that youth uptake rapidly comes down.”

Andrej Kuttruf, CEO and Founder of Evapo, explains:

“While the delay in legislation provides a temporary reprieve, it underscores the need for a balanced approach to public health policy. Our customer survey shows that 88% of vapers are former smokers, and 93% have either quit or reduced smoking thanks to vaping. Flavour bans and excessive taxation could reverse this progress, pushing vapers back to smoking and fuelling the illicit market.

“The data clearly shows the essential role that diverse vape flavours play in helping adults quit smoking. As policymakers revisit the Tobacco & Vapes Bill, we urge them to consider these insights and prioritise enforcement of existing laws over new restrictions.

”Our commitment to a smoke-free future remains steadfast, and we stand ready to collaborate on solutions that protect youth without compromising adult smokers’ access to safer alternatives.”

The evidence from other countries where similar restrictions have been introduced shows that they can backfire, fuelling the flames of the illicit market by flooding it with non-compliant and possibly dangerous products. These products are not only potentially harmful, but the irresponsible retailers willing to sell illicit products are the same ones who are not likely to adhere to age verification.

These proposed vaping restrictions, in combination with the proposed ban on the sale of disposable vapes, and the recently announced Vaping Products Duty which will increase the price of vape liquids by up to £3 per 10ml, come together to create too much restriction on a product that has the potential to make a real impact on declining smoking rates.

The concern is that if the Government cannot enforce the regulations currently in place effectively, which already restrict the sale of vaping products to those over the age of 18, how would they enforce these additional, more complex ones.

How is vaping different to smoking?

By including tobacco and vapes in the same bill the Tory government were inadvertently perpetuating the misconception that they are two sides of the same coin. Rather, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, while vaping is an alternative nicotine delivery method aimed at helping smokers to quit cigarettes.

Cigarettes contain a myriad of toxic substances like tar, arsenic, and carbon monoxide which are not present in e-cigarettes, and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has identified vaping as being at least 95% less harmful than smoking.

The addictive substance in cigarettes is nicotine, but nicotine itself does not cause cancer and has an effect on the body relatively similar to caffeine. By moving from smoking to an e-cigarette, vapers are able to continue using nicotine and managing their addiction without all of the additional harmful substances that are found in tobacco smoke.

Vaping has been proven to be an effective stop smoking aid, and while it is not recommended for those who have never smoked to use a vape, the NHS and other health care organisations endorse e-cigarettes as effective and recommended alternative to smoking.

Another big difference between smoking and vaping is that e-liquids are available in a wide variety of different flavours and nicotine strengths. This allows the users to not only match their nicotine intake to what their body is used to from smoking, but also choose flavours which they find appealing, making them more likely to continuing using their vape in favour of returning to smoking. This is why the proposed flavour bans within the Tobacco and Vapes Bill caused such uproar, as there is an abundance of research finding that such flavour restrictions could dissuade current smokers from switching to vaping, and make current vapers more likely to return to smoking.

Government responds to petition against vape flavour bans

On 14 February the petition ‘Don’t ban flavoured e-liquids for e-cigarettes’ was started and quickly gained traction, with thousands of people signing to show their support. Once a petition has reached 10,000 signatures the Government will respond to it, and this petition hit the 10,000 signatures mark within two days of going live.

The Government responded and confirmed that flavour bans were on the table as something that would be proposed in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, with the first line of the response reading ‘to address the rise in youth vaping, vape flavours that appeal to children will be restricted’. Although they did go on to state that further consultation would take place to ensure that any regulations are mindful of how vape flavours can help support adult smokers as they quit.

This obviously came before the general election was announced, and so refers to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill which has now been abandoned. This means that, until the next parliamentary session opens we will not know if the new Government intends to pursue these same restrictions on vape flavours. However, the dissolution of Government also means that all open petitions are closed, and so the petition to keep vape flavours closed on 30 May 2024 having been signed by over 54,000 people.

Which flavours might be targeted by a ban?

The Government’s consultation – ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping’  – included questions around restricting vape flavours. When asked whether the UK Government and devolved administrations should restrict vape flavours, 47% of respondents agreed, 51% disagreed, 2% said they don’t know.

For those who agreed, there was a focus on sweet and fruit flavours that may be attractive to children or non-smokers. They reported a concern around the risk of children becoming addicted to nicotine and cited the importance of smells being influential. The respondents who disagreed raised concerns around the ways flavour restrictions might impact smoking cessation and cited concerns that restricting vape flavours may be a government overreach.

The consultation outcome also gives an indication of the kind of flavours the Government were considering restrictions for. It asked which proposal would be most effective from the following options: Option A: flavours limited to tobacco only, Option B: flavours limited to tobacco, mint and menthol only, Option C: flavours limited to tobacco, mint, menthol and fruits only. The majority of respondents, 42.6%, selected option C.

The flavour bans proposed in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill were focused on flavours ‘appealing to children’, which would primarily include sweet and fruity flavours. In their response to the petition against flavour bans, the Government states that 60% of minors who vape choose fruit flavours, with 17% choosing sweet flavours, and 4.8% choosing energy or soft drink flavours. This gives us an indication of the kinds of flavours that could have been restricted, however, they do also specify that the way a flavour is named and described also plays a role in how appealing they are to minors.

As the Tobacco and Vapes Bill has effectively been abandoned we can only wait an see if such flavour restrictions will be addressed in any future proposals once the next parliamentary session opens. This means there is now more time for us to lobby against flavour restrictions which could prove highly detrimental to current and future vapers, and demonstrate why such bans should remain abandoned even if the new government does seek powers to regulate vaping in some capacity.

Government assessment finds flavour bans could put over 1 in 10 ex-smokers at risk of relapse

The potential consequences of the proposed vape flavour bans in Rishi Sunak’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill were highlighted in the Government’s own impact assessment, with research from Bristol University revealing that flavour restrictions could drive 13% of current vapers to return to smoking.

Under the legislation proposed within the Bill, any flavours that could be seen as appealing to children could be restricted, including sweet and fruity flavours which are also popular among adult users. Research from a number of sources indicates that restricting the flavours available could have a significant impact on the appeal of vapes for current and potential users, which could have a knock-on effect on smoking rates.

While the impact assessment attempted to minimise this by explaining that 'it was estimated that 13 per cent of ex-smokers vape and 13 per cent of these ex-smokers would relapse if flavours were not available', it did not account for the many current smokers who could also be deterred from making a stop smoking attempt in future using an e-cigarette should these flavours be restricted. It also failed to recognise that no matter how many people could be affected, any action that could cause ex-smokers to return to smoking is something that should be avoided in the interest of public health.

While certain e-liquid flavours may have a side effect of being tempting for younger people, they have been formulated to be pleasant for vapers who are looking for a way to stop smoking. Banning these flavours could have far larger consequences than initially intended. 

Flavour bans could stop smokers from quitting

The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) – the leading independent trade association for the UK vaping industry commissioned a member survey of 2,000 adults from January 2024. The research showed that if single-use vapes and flavours were banned, 38% of regular smokers and recent ex-smokers that have used vaping to reduce or fully quit smoking would either smoke more cigarettes, switch back to smoking or purchase illegal vapes. This represents 1 million adult smokers and recent ex-smokers (as in, those who quit less than 5 years ago).

These findings are backed up by the scientific study, The role of flavours in vaping initiation and satisfaction among U.S. adults. This paper found that 62.9% of vapers typically used flavours other than tobacco (including fruit, mint/menthol, sweet, candy, coffee and other), 24.2% typically used tobacco flavours while 12.9% typically used non-flavoured options. The vapers who used flavours were more likely to report high satisfaction with vaping.

In fact, a survey conducted among our customers revealed that 83% of the 1,134 participants prefer to vape non-tobacco or menthol flavours, like fruit and dessert flavours, and 81% of them believe that flavour restrictions would have a negative impact on smokers making the switch to vaping.

Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) on the other hand,  found that following the 2020 flavour ban by the US Food and Drug Administration, vapers did not quit vaping. While some were driven back to smoking, with 14 per cent switching to combustible products such as cigarettes and five percent switched to smokeless tobacco products, most switched to menthol flavoured vapes.

Tougher sanctions around selling vapes to underage users needed

One of the best ways to tackle problems arising from underage vaping is to make it more difficult for young people to get hold of items they should not be purchasing. At Evapo, we are committed to facing the problem of youth vaping head on and believe that a blanket ban of flavours is not the most effective solution.

We have laid out a series of proposals to prevent youth vaping and the introduction of tougher sanctions for retailers who sell to underage vapers is a key element. We advocate for substantial fines, such as £10,000 on-the-spot penalties for retailers caught selling to under 18s, as a way to significantly deter illegal sales.

Flavour bans could lead to a boom in the illicit market

In addition to the fact that flavour bans may deter smokers from making the switch, there’s also the risk that taking certain flavours off the market will result in a rise in illegal trading. Illicit market or counterfeit vapes are already a serious health concern, as they do not follow the strict and sensible regulations that guide the manufacture of vapes and e-liquids.

If consumers find that the flavours that they like most are no longer available from reputable vendors, they may look elsewhere and run up against the dangers of using unregulated products. A US study on flavour bans found that most respondents continued to use e-cigarettes with banned flavours post-ban. Many vapers were able to obtain banned flavours from legal routes, due to the laxity of the bans, but a significant proportion sought them out online or from illegal sellers.

Timeline: government communication around vaping bans

12 October 2023 – The Government consultation ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping’ is opened and responses from the general public invited.

7 November 2023 - The intention for the Government to introduce a 'Tobacco & Vapes Bill' is announced in the King's speech.

6 December 2023 – The Government’s consultation is closed. The responses are collated and an outcome prepared.

28 January 2024 – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced government plans to introduce a variety of measures to tackle youth vaping, including potential flavour bans.

29 January 2024 – ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping consultation: government response’ is released, outlining how the Government intend to proceed

20 March 2024 - The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is introduced to Parliament, seeking new powers to regulate vaping products, including restricting vape flavours.

16 April 2024 - The Tobacco and Vapes Bill got its second reading in the House of Commons allowing MPs to debate on the main propositions within the bill. The Bill was voted through to the next phase.

Late April 2024 - The Bill entered the committee stage, allowing for amendments to be tabled and further debate to take place on the finer details of the Bill.

22 May 2024 – Rishi Sunak called for a general election.

24 May 2024 – Parliament was prorogued, meaning any bills that had not passed were either abandoned or would need to be reintroduced from scratch in the next parliamentary session. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill was one of those lost.

30 May 2024 – Parliament dissolved

4 July 2024 - A general election will be held to determine the new Government.

1 April 2025 - The previously proposed date from the Conservative Government for when the now abandoned Tobacco and Vapes Bill would have come into force, which will no longer be enacted.

When will vape flavours be banned?

As the Tobacco and Vapes Bill has been abandoned following the call for a general election, there are currently no plans for a vape flavour ban in the UK. While the new government may seek to bring in regulations on vaping products there is currently no indication of what they would be and whether flavour bans would be included. This means that there will not be a vape flavour ban introduced on 1 April 2025 as previously proposed by the Tory Government.

At present we can only wait and see if flavour bans are something which will be pursued in future, but should this happen the entire process for seeking the powers to regulate vaping would need to start from scratch.

There are a number of steps that must be taken before vape flavour restrictions could be brought to pass, including public consultations which offer us an opportunity to help shape future regulations.

In order to implement any regulations on vape flavours the Government would first need to allow themselves new powers to regulate, which requires primary legislation to be put in place. This is because, unless the Government have given themselves the power to regulate something, they cannot implement any regulations.

When it comes to the devolved nations, Wales will be legislated through the UK Parliament, while Scotland will likely use a legislative consent motion to allow the UK Government to legislate on their behalf. Northern Ireland endorsed a legislative consent motion to enable the Tobacco and Vapes Bill just days before the general election was called, indicating they will likely do the same on future legislation.

What does it mean for the UKs vapers?

While we don’t yet know whether the next Government will choose to ban or restrict specific flavours, it is clearly a proposal which we need to take seriously.

Research carried out by Opinium and commissioned by an IBVTA member spotlights a strong belief that excessive vaping regulations and restrictions such as flavour bans could actually prevent adult smokers from choosing to make the switch to an e-cigarette. In fact, 59% of vapers report that vape flavours helped them quit smoking and 39% of those who used an e-cigarette to help them quit smoking used fruit flavours to do it.

While the abandonment of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill is good news for vape flavours, it is important that the vaping industry does not become complacent and continues to bring awareness to the important role vape flavours play and how they can aid smokers in making the switch to vaping.

Evapo reaction to the proposed flavour ban

Evapo founder & CEO and UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) board member, Andrej Kuttruf, recently took part in an interview with GB News about the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. He highlighted fears that the Government hope to bring in many new bans and regulations that they may not be able to enforce, explaining:

“Vaping products are already banned for the underage, yet kids are getting hold of these products. So, what we don’t need now is more bans, more restrictions, if the Government can’t even enforce its existing laws. The black market has been allowed to flourish, so what we really need is to prosecute these criminals and to introduce harsh fines.”

Some of the proposed restrictions within the Bill, like the restriction of vape flavours, could have had the adverse effect of making vaping a less appealing alternative to smoking for adults. Research from the Government’s own impact assessment found that over one in ten current vapers are at risk of relapsing back into smoking if their preferred flavours are no longer available, which is surely something that should be avoided at all costs. Andrej explains:

‘If the Government want to achieve Smokefree 2030 for this country it needs to embrace vaping as part of the solution. The UK has now achieve one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe, thanks to a very pro-vaping stance in the past.”

He expressed the fears that are being voiced by many, that vaping is being bundled in with smoking by creating a combined Bill to address both:

‘It should not really be one shared bill, because vaping is really the solution to smoking. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is clear that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, it’s twice as effective as other ways to quit… The message to smokers should be that the best thing they can do for their health to quit smoking completely or to switch to vaping. I think the Government is confusing the issue.’

As a vaping retailer we see first-hand the important role that vape flavours play in helping adult smokers make the switch to a less harmful alternative. Quitting smoking is not easy, and so having an alternative option that is not only effective and accessible, but also enjoyable, makes all the difference. We fully support efforts to tackle youth vaping, but want to find a solution which also protects those adults who rely on vaping as a way to help them remain smokefree. For this reason we will continue to lobby MPs to ensure that any regulations brought in should the next government pursue them are proportionate and subject to the appropriate assessment and consultation.

You can watch Andrej Kuttruf’s full interview in the video below.

Sources

Gov.uk 12/02/2024

Ibvta.org.uk 26/01/2024

Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov 02/08/2019

Urmc.rochester.edu 03/11/2022

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Petition.parliament.uk 14/02/2024

Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov 21/05/2023

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theguardian.com 04/2024

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medrxiv.org 21/03/2023

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