Is there a vape flavour ban in the UK?

As part of the UK Government’s attempts to create a smokefree generation and tackle youth vaping, they intend to bring in new regulations that will restrict certain vape flavours which are seen to be particularly appealing to younger vapers. Although the scope of these restrictions is yet to be confirmed, and is subject to further consultation, the Government have made it clear that we should expect to see changes to the variety of flavours available on the vaping market in the coming years.

While we can appreciate the Government’s ambition and are also committed to tackling youth vaping, there are several important risks to consider around banning vape flavours, such as the ways it might deter smokers from making the switch to vaping or encourage a rise in illicit alternatives.

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 have now responded and unfortunately it confirms that flavour bans are on the table as something we are going to see in the future, 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 do go on to state that further consultation will take place to ensure that any regulations are mindful of how vape flavours can help support adult smokers as they quit.

While the proposed disposable vape ban will be imposed under existing legislation using the Environmental Protection Act, the Government does not currently have the powers needed to introduce regulations on vaping products. The response explains that although these powers will be introduced, any regulations will be carefully measured to ensure that unintended consequences are minimised:

‘The Government is, therefore, legislating to take powers to restrict the range of vape flavours and how they are described in the future. This will sit alongside a range of measures to reduce illicit underage vaping, including restricting vape packaging and where vapes can be displayed within a shop. The collective aim of these measures is to reduce the appeal and accessibility of vapes to children, whilst ensuring that vapes remain an option for adult smokers looking to quit.

Future restrictions on vape flavours will be subject to further analysis and consultation before any regulations are laid in Parliament for debate. To avoid unintended consequences on smoking rates, the scope of these restrictions will be carefully considered and weighed against evidence.’

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 are 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.

Government bans would be 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 may be 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.

Flavour bans could stop smokers from quitting
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. 

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.

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. On February 14 a petition was launched calling on the Government to reconsider proposals for a ban on flavoured e-liquids. The Government have now responded as the vape flavour ban petition has received over 10,000 signatures, with over 45,000 signatures so far. Should it reach 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in Parliament. The petition will run until August 2024.

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. Here 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

14 February 2024 - A petition is launched titled ‘Don’t ban flavoured e-liquids for e-cigarettes’. If it reaches 100,000, the Government will be consider it for Parliamentary debate.

13 March 2024 – The Government responds to the petition against vape flavour bans.

When will vape flavours be banned?
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 first intend to allow themselves new powers to regulate, this will require 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.

This primary legislation will come in the form of the proposed ‘Tobacco & Vapes Bill’, which will allow for the regulation of vape flavours, packaging, and point of sale displays. It will also allow them to enact the generational smoking ban and bolster enforcement powers to Trading Standards. This bill will likely be published soon and will have to go through both Houses of Parliament; the House of Lords, and House of Commons. It will then go to the committee stage and this is where amendments can be tabled by both parties, whether amendments are proposed and debated will dictate how long the process will take. 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. There is still clarification needed on how and when Northern Ireland will move forward with this.

What does it mean for the UKs vapers?
While we don’t yet know whether the Government will choose to ban or restrict specific flavours, it is clearly a proposal in serious consideration.
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. Vapers who do not support a flavour ban and who would like to add their voice are encouraged to sign the petition: Don’t ban flavoured e-liquids for e-cigarettes.