Flavor Advice Boosts Chances of Switching From Cigarettes to Vapes

    People are more likely to quit smoking through vapes if they receive help in choosing the right flavor for them, plus supportive messages, recent research found.

    The study was conducted by London South Bank University (LSBU) and published in the Addiction journal in July. Through social media, the researchers recruited 1,214 eligible participants, all of whom smoked heavily and were interested in trying to quit using vapes.

    They then tested five remote interventions aimed at helping people switch—mostly online surveys that produced recommendations based on individual responses. The interventions were: “tailored device selection advice; tailored e-liquid nicotine strength advice; tailored e-liquid flavor advice; brief information on relative harms; and text message (SMS) support.”

    “Simple tailored advice on selecting a flavor along with supportive text messages could increase quit rates by 55 percent.”

    By offering different groups of participants different interventions (including all, or none of them), the study sought to determine which combination was most effective.

    “In the adjusted model,” the researchers concluded, “the only significant interaction was a two-way interaction, advice on flavor combined with text message support, which increased the odds of abstinence [from cigarettes].”

    “E-cigarettes are a popular method for quitting smoking, but many people need more help and support,” Lynne Dawkins, professor of nicotine and tobacco studies at LSBU and one of the study authors, told Filter. “In this study, we found simple tailored advice on selecting a flavor along with supportive text messages could increase quit rates by 55 percent.”

    Among the participants who received these two interventions, 24.5 percent had quit cigarettes entirely after three months, while another 13 percent had reduced their smoking by more than half.

    Prof. Dawkins said that if further studies replicated the results, this would represent “a simple, affordable approach that could easily be rolled out at scale to improve people’s chances of quitting smoking.”

    “Less than a third of smokers in our study wanted something that tasted like tobacco.”

    The findings can be seen as a rebuke to those who portray vape flavors as just an industry ruse to attract youth. Past research has also indicated the importance of flavor options to adults who switch.

    “Less than a third of smokers in our study wanted something that tasted like tobacco,” Dawkins noted. Banning non-tobacco flavors, as some jurisdictions have done,would only leave products that taste similar to cigarettes, and based on our study many smokers don’t want that reminder.”

    The idea that advice and support would be helpful seems intuitive, and text or online support has great potential to be scaled up. But this is also something that many local vape shops offer in person—underlining what’s lost when misinformation and regulations force closures, as has often happened in the United States.

    Clive Bates, a harm reduction advocate and former director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH, UK), agreed that the new research reinforces the key role of vape shops and their staff. 

    More broadly, he said, the study gives “great insights into what smokers do and do not need to make the move to vaping.”

    “I was particularly struck by the findings on advice on flavors, suggesting that this is one of the most important aspects of the initial transition,” Bates told Filter

    Dawkins added that the study participants were highly nicotine dependent. They smoked an average of 18 cigarettes a day, and 90 percent would smoke a cigarette within 30 minutes of waking.  

    “That 19 percent [of all participants] were able to quit with an electric cigarette offer plus some guidance and support, and a further 13 percent dramatically cut down their smoking, shows that e-cigarettes can help even some of the most dependent of smokers,” she said.



    Photograph by Lindsay Fox via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 2.0

    • Kiran is a tobacco harm reduction fellow for Filter. She is a writer and journalist who has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, I Paper and the Times, among many others. Her book, I Can Hear the Cuckoo, was published by Gaia in 2023. She lives in Wales.

      Kiran’s fellowship is supported by an independently administered tobacco harm reduction scholarship from Knowledge-Action-Change—an organization that has separately provided restricted grants and donations to Filter.

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