Back in June 2020, the Dutch State Secretary for Health, Paul Blokhuis, announced that he wanted to ban all non-tobacco vape flavours in the Netherlands. Even though consumers raised their voices and expressed their outrage against the ban, the Dutch government is now pushing on with its plan—ignoring impacted citizens and health experts alike.
This should be of great concern to all vapers around the world. The Netherlands has previously been regarded as a liberal society that has approached lifestyle regulation with healthy pragmatism. If such a country bans flavors, it is almost certain that there will be knock-on effects for other EU member states, as well as at a WHO level, with the FCTC COP9 conference coming up later this year.
There is a paradox in the making in the Netherlands: While running huge stop-smoking campaigns like STOPtober, the Dutch government simultaneously wants to make it harder to quit by banning one of the most effective means of doing so.
It could force a quarter of a million former smokers in the Netherlands to take up the habit once again.
Proponents of the ban want a “quit or die” approach. But while quitting cold turkey works for some, more than nine in 10 will go back to smoking after trying to quit with no aid. The science on vaping is clear: E-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than smoking and they are one of the most successful and efficient means for smokers to quit.
And crucially, flavors play a vital role for smokers who want to quit. Adults who have used vaping to quit smoking say that flavours, other than tobacco, were a decisive factor in preventing them from returning to smoking. By using flavoured e-liquids they are 230 percent more likely to quit smoking than if using tobacco-flavoured ones.
In 2007, nearly a quarter of the Dutch population smoked daily. That number is down to 16 percent in 2018, and continues to trend downwards. Banning flavored e-cigarettes risks slamming the brakes on this great progress. According to one recent report, “Why Vape Flavors Matter?”, it could force a quarter of a million former smokers in the Netherlands to take up the habit once again.
Vapers Raise Their Voices
The Netherlands has always been viewed as an open society, sceptical of unnecessary regulation and prohibition. Yet on this occasion, we ended up with an illogical proposal, working against the core objective of key government health campaigns. So the World Vapers’ Alliance and Dutch national organizations raised their voices. And a community of passionate vapers quickly started to put pressure on the Dutch government to drop the proposal.
The result was the largest ever public consultation response for a health issue in the Netherlands.
To add insult to injury, the Dutch government attempted to silence vapers by launching its public consultation on the subject just days before Christmas, and giving it a window of response of four weeks, instead of the customary six.
Despite these obstacles, we soon saw the power of consumers in action. The result was the largest ever public consultation response for a health issue in the Netherlands, with over 1,100 responses—an incredible 98 percent of which were against the flavor ban. Fully 74 percent of the participants used the occasion to speak up about the critical role vaping flavors have played in helping them to quit cigarettes.
Jelle van der Paal from Zutphen stopped smoking after 25 years thanks to vaping. She believes that a flavor ban is a “step backwards on the road to a smoke-free society.” Marco Sjaardema from Apeldoorn fears that Dutch stores will go out of business and people will simply buy abroad or on the illicit market. Many hundreds of others shared their stories on how vaping flavors helped them quit smoking for good.
Their combined efforts helped to delay the ban until the downfall of the Dutch government. Earlier this year, the ruling coalition broke up because of a financial scandal, triggering national elections in March.
In the Netherlands, multi-party coalition governments are the norm. After elections, different parties negotiate a program and agree to implement it together during the legislative period. At the moment, parties are still negotiating a coalition program while a caretaker government is in place. So currently, Blokhuis is acting as health secretary in a caretaker capacity.
A caretaker government is, as its name suggests, supposed to manage the country until a legitimate government is put in place—not initiate new and controversial legislation.
And yet, they did it. On May 21, they announced that the flavor ban is moving forward. In light of citizens’ strong opposition in the public consultation, as well as the lack of legitimacy of this cabinet, it is completely unethical. This is a huge blow for tobacco harm reduction and all the vapers who raised their voices, and it is likely to tarnish the reputation of the Netherlands.
World Vape Day: Go the Extra Mile for Vaping
The importance of the Netherlands battle really crystallizes when you zoom out to the regulatory agenda at an EU level. The European Commission already announced its Beating Cancer plan—which will be the guideline for the bloc’s Tobacco Products Directive revision—and flavors are being threatened here as well.
Moving down the line, with the FCTC COP9 in November, moves to ban flavors may give more impetus to anti-vaping activists and have disastrous consequences for the fight against smoking-induced illnesses worldwide.
We need to show everyone what vaping has done for us.
It is time for the international tobacco harm reduction community to come together and push back against the unscientific war against less harmful alternatives. As “public health” influencers and anti-vaping activists dominate the airwaves, it has become increasingly difficult for us vapers to make our voices heard when we talk about the hugely positive effects vaping has had on our lives.
We need to show everyone what vaping has done for us. That’s why the World Vapers’ Alliance wants you to join us to celebrate vaping on May 30. The importance of World Vape Day cannot be underestimated—for millions of vapers around the world who have made the switch, and for over a billion smokers who have yet to do so.
By celebrating vaping on the day before World No Tobacco Day, thousands of us will be making a powerful statement: We are beating smoking by vaping.
The theme for this year’s World Vape Day is “Go the Extra Mile.” It will be a celebration of everything good about vaping. We have organized a busy schedule of live streams, with some amazing guests from across the international vaping community, to discuss how vaping has changed our lives.
Vapers’ voices must be heard, and we are powerful when we come together. The Netherlands example shows how much this is needed.