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Melon, banana, pina colada – will e-cigarettes soon only have flavors?

There is hardly a fruit that cannot be flavored in liquids for e-cigarettes.

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Melon, banana, pina colada – will e-cigarettes soon only have flavors?

There is hardly a fruit that cannot be flavored in liquids for e-cigarettes. Melon, banana or peach are just as common as combinations of vanilla and wild berries. Even the flavor of marzipan, Irish coffee or whiskey can be found in stores or online shops for vapers, just as e-cigarette smokers talk to each other.

During production, other flavors are added to the usual tobacco taste to make the cigarette vapor feel less harsh. For beginners, the most popular admixture is menthol, which accounts for around a third – which, unlike tobacco cigarettes in this country, is still permitted with electronic vapor devices.

Around three million Germans use an e-cigarette occasionally or regularly, and the trend is rising. Many of them were previously among the approximately 17 million tobacco cigarette smokers in the country. The medium-sized e-cigarette industry expects sales of around half a billion euros in the current year.

One reason for switching from tobacco to vaping concerns health: even the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg certifies that smoking e-cigarettes is far less dangerous when it comes to health damage.

No tobacco is burned in the devices, but liquids are heated and vaporized. The situation is different with the nicotine it contains, the active substance from the tobacco plant: the substance is just as addictive in an e-cigarette as in a tobacco cigarette. According to the current EU regulation, up to 20 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid are permitted.

It is precisely the variety of so-called e-liquids that make e-cigarettes so attractive and so successful. And switching to vaping could save a tobacco smoker's survival. This is how lobbyists in the still young industry argue.

But that could soon be over: The EU Commission is working on a new version of the Tobacco Products Directive and far-reaching restrictions for e-cigarettes could appear in it for the first time. After all, it has so far hardly been regulated compared to tobacco cigarettes - neither in the products nor in retail.

Flavors are a key point in the discussion of the new Tobacco Products Directive. They are viewed critically by the health policy of the EU Commission.

The concerns are primarily directed at the attractiveness of e-cigarettes among young people, who could develop a taste for the aromas of sweet fruits, for example. Other topics in the new version of the product directive are standard packaging without advertising or smoking bans in public, including for vape cigarettes.

In a trend-setting study commissioned by the EU Commission, the Scheer Report (Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks), the e-cigarette is the subject of discussion. Among other things, the scientists state that flavors increase the attractiveness of e-cigarettes and encourage people to start smoking e-cigarettes. As a conclusion, they recommend a ban on flavors, because only through them would children and young people be encouraged to smoke these cigarettes.

The European Beating Cancer Plan (EU Beating Cancer Plan) also addresses the danger of aromas. In addition, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany has just identified a need for research into flavors in e-cigarettes. With menthol, the situation is already clear: the institute recommends including liquids containing menthol in the list of prohibited substances.

Individual member states of the EU are already pushing ahead. For example, Denmark imposed a far-reaching ban on flavors for liquids last year, in the Netherlands it is to be implemented at the beginning of 2023 and in Sweden it is in the planning stage.

There is still a long way to go before the new version of the Tobacco Products Directive is passed and transposed into national law. Decisions are likely to be made in the middle of this decade. But now the course is being set for the content.

The EU Commission intends to publish its proposals by the end of 2022. The EU is currently interviewing consumers and stakeholders in a free consultation. This, in turn, promptly attracts lobbyists. The association of the e-cigarette trade has just called on e-cigarette smokers in an online campaign to speak out against a ban on aromas.

The fears of the industry associations are concrete. "Should the EU Commission plan far-reaching restrictions on flavors for the new version of the Tobacco Products Directive, we will defend ourselves with all our might," says Dustin Dahlmann, Chairman of the Alliance for Tobacco-Free Enjoyment. In his main job he is the owner and managing director of the industry company Innocigs.

The association will fight back to the last resort, if necessary by going to the European Court of Justice. A ban on flavors would be an "unjustified discrimination against a product that has been proven to be less harmful" compared to tobacco cigarettes.

In addition, it has been scientifically refuted that e-cigarettes seduce young people to smoke. According to the German survey on smoking behavior (Debra study), around 99 percent of e-cigarette users are adults.

Time is running out. "At this point in the proceedings, it is our only chance to defend the flavors for e-cigarettes in the context of the EU Commission's surveys and consultations," says Oliver Pohland, Managing Director of the Association of E-Cigarette Trade. Finally, the variety of flavors contributes to the fact that vapers do not return to the classic tobacco cigarette.

Should there be a ban, the lobbyist sees another danger emerging. E-cigarette smokers could then illegally obtain vapor liquids with flavors that are banned in this country, possibly posing a health risk.

In the meantime, the EU Commission is reluctant to make decisions on another issue that is important for the industry. There are no resolutions on the harmonization of the tax on e-cigarettes, which has been planned for years. 16 of the 27 EU member states have already introduced such a levy.

In Germany, this tax will be implemented in July, initially with 16 cents per milliliter of liquid. By 2026, this amount will rise to 32 cents or 3.20 euros per standard ten milliliter pack.

Added to this is sales tax. So far, 15 cents per milliliter of vapor liquid is under discussion as a specification from the EU Commission – but a decision has not yet been made.

The lobbyists don't like that either. The alliance for tobacco-free enjoyment recently filed a constitutional complaint against this tax in Germany. The 38-page complaint is justified, among other things, with the different health risks between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. The demand is that this must be taken into account in taxation.

Around eleven cents in taxes are currently levied on each tobacco cigarette in Germany. In the case of an e-cigarette, it is converted to a unit in the last stage of the tax increase, around 15 cents.

In the run-up to the newly introduced levy, e-cigarette smokers stocked up on plenty of untaxed liquids. According to the industry association, sales in the first half of this year were 40 percent higher than in the same period last year.

Around 3000 medium-sized and small companies are active in the e-cigarette business in Germany. The big industry companies include names like Innocigs, Intrade, Ex-Trade, Vapor Ex Machina or Feal Vape. While the vast majority of liquids come from German or European production, most vape devices are imported by wholesalers from China.

The recast of the Tobacco Products Directive has a background. As a self-imposed goal, the EU health policy aims to achieve a smoking rate of less than five percent in the member states by 2040. It's currently 25 percent.

According to the long-term study German survey on smoking behavior, this value is currently almost 35 percent in Germany. This is measured among residents aged 14 and over. However, the rate has increased by six percent in the past two years - at a time when life was severely restricted by the corona pandemic.

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