Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The insanity of banning vape flavours

Nicotine may have some deleterious and costly health effects, but so do winter sports, mountaineering, motorcycling and many other activities we leave to personal choice. (I have never been asked to work on a government anti-skiing campaign, though if the opportunity arose I would happily volunteer my services for free.)

But it is absurd that vaping is now the target of much more opprobrium than alcohol. I suspect part of the explanation can be found in an HM Government health warning which appeared on cigarette packets in the 1980s: ‘Most Doctors Don’t Smoke.’ Indeed so. Most doctors don’t vape either. But, in my experience, doctors drink a lot. (The idea of taking lifestyle advice from the medical establishment seems absurd to anyone who has witnessed the behaviour of medical students.)

Boozy doctors seem to overlook abundant nightly evidence from A&E which reveals that alcohol is much the larger social problem. No one starts a fight or crashes a car because they have vaped too much. Nicotine may alter mood, but it does not create antisocial or dangerous behaviour. (When my daughters were at university, somewhere at number 473 on my list of worries was that they might take up vaping.)

The same blindness may apply to politicians, who seem to enjoy a drinking culture unchanged from the 1970s.

The switch from smoking to vaping by millions of people is something we should be cautiously celebrating. Britain, which regulated vaping to a far lesser degree than many countries, has – along with snus-chewing Sweden – the lowest smoking rates in Europe. Go into any vape shop and you will see many people who, after years of failed quit-attempts, have finally found a way out. Many of these people are visibly not rich – and so are also freed from a level of taxation on cigarettes which was borderline unethical when many remaining smokers were poor and lacked an alternative.

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