The vision that can save lives - dies with the flavour ban

NO! We will not agree to anything. They are lying! They want to kill us!"
It is the owner of one of Sweden's many vejp shops who loses it completely. Roadside shops are, for those of you who don't know, shops that sell e-cigarettes and the associated e-juice. They are usually small and filled to the brim with gadgets that we vejpers need to stay away from cancer sticks, you know, cigarettes. There are batteries and vaporisers, e-liquid, essences and God knows what else. And I don't usually upset people, except possibly my partner from time to time, and today I really didn't mean to step on anyone's toes. But what a claptrap it was.

To start from the beginning. 

A small life's work at the sink

Quest (that's his name) runs a small company that produces e-liquid. He started his business after realising that e-liquid is something as simple as glycerine, propylene glycol and flavourings mixed in a bottle. Cheap ingredients that can be bought in well-stocked shops. The added value is enormous.
"You'd be an idiot not to get into e-liquid production," said Quest, after tasting a rather disgusting e-juice that I made myself at home at the sink. I gave him the recipe. He drove home in his grey Renault and it soon became apparent that the man had both talent and a sensitive palate. Four years later, he opened a small shop in Gothenburg, juice lab and all. A small life's work that started at the sink. 

The simple psychology of smoking

He is not alone in this. Of all the vejp shoppers in Sweden, well over half started in a garage or a closet somewhere in Sweden. E-cigarettes haven't been popular for very long, and it was only after the Swedish Medicines Agency lost the right to authorise them. classify nicotine in the e-liquid as a medicineIn 2016, the market started to grow. E-juice manufacturers ventured out of the closet and moved into city centres. Small shops popped up, staffed by passionate ex-smokers who knew a little too much about Ohm's Law, flavour nuances but perhaps more importantly, they had insight into the simple psyche of the cigarette addict:
"Give me something tastier than cigarettes and I'll give you my money."

Passion - with a ban on advertising

It hasn't been a particularly explosive market. A few years ago, all meaningful marketing of e-cigarettes ceased after the government decided to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products - complete with an advertising ban and all the trappings of strict tobacco control. As a result, vejpshoppers were no longer allowed to promote their products for what they are really for: smoking cessation. Smoking cessation is a concept that, with a few exceptions, only pharmaceutical companies can boast about. The public health authorities have decided that.

From two parcels a day to the clouds

But for Quest, such trivialities didn't matter. When I met him for the first time, in the car park outside our children's school in one of Gothenburg's suburbs, he smoked like a brush cutter. Me too, for that matter. We chain-smoked and talked about silly school rules and were quite happy with that.

Quest was one of those people who tried everything to stop smoking, laser, hypnosis, therapy and chewing gum and plasters and gubevarse.

I have only quit smoking once. And that was with the help of a substandard e-cigarette and an equally substandard e-juice from the convenience store a block away from the house where we lived.
Idiot that I am, I soon changed careers from editor at a newspaper to shop assistant in a small vejp shop, the only one in Gothenburg at the time, with a vision of helping others to stop smoking cigarettes.

It wasn't long before Quest showed up. He left the shop with the cheapest thing we had in our hand.
"I'm not going to pay 900 bucks for something without knowing what it is."
And so he went. From two packs a day to one bottle of e-juice a week. Quest bolted clouds all day long. It was as if he had gone to heaven.

The cocktail of death - or life

E-cigarettes are smoking cessation. No matter what the public health authorities or anyone else says. They just use a more narrow definition of the term, linked to politics and established channels to the pharmaceutical industry. Combined with a poorly thought-out precautionary principle, e-cigarettes have become an elusive concept for Swedish authorities. For smokers, it's all about harm reduction. That the vapour from a vejp is less harmful than the smoke from a cigarette. Much less harmful, according to comparisons.

Even the government's own investigationwhich was released at the end of March, concludes that both smokeless nicotine and flavours in the e-liquid are unlikely to cause any life-threatening harm, even with long-term use. A bit naive perhaps, no scientist claims that vejping is risk-free, but nicotine itself does not cause cancer and the concentration of flavours is too low to even be measured properly. Writes the government investigators.
The smoke from a cigarette, on the other hand. It is the cocktail of death.

From garages and closets

Despite this, a few days before my cloak-and-dagger meeting with Quest, the government's investigators put forward a proposal to ban all flavourings in the e-juice. Whether the e-juice contains nicotine or not. The exception is so-called tobacco flavour, which does not taste like smoke of death but rather tea made from cigar leaves. The government's investigators believe that young people don't like the tobacco flavours. Unfortunately, neither do 90 per cent of Quest's customers. Or many others who use e-cigarettes either. Most people like fruit flavours.

Compact political opposition

The government's proposal to ban flavours in e-juice has some merit: keep young people away from trying e-cigarettes. But the reasoning is fundamentally more moralistic than health-related. It doesn't really matter if vejping is more or less harmful than smoking. Or that we have an 18-year age limit for buying vejp products. It's the principle that counts.

"If the choice is between allowing some people to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking and preventing young people from taking up smoking, young people always come first," Lena Emilsson, spokesperson on tobacco issues for the Social Affairs Committee (S), told me when I asked before a session of the Social Affairs Committee. article in Vejpkollen.
"Smokers should be happy with tobacco flavours," said Michael Anefur of the KD party in the same article.

Broad support across party lines. A simple solution to a 'problem', whether real or not. Just honk the horn and go! Right?

Statistics, statistics and more statistics

It is not surprising that young people try e-cigs. Neither is the fact that they like fruit and sweets. Young people will probably try anything they can get their hands on, but I'm sure the flavours will appeal to them too.
On the other hand.
Me, Quest and the majority of the day's smokers sat and sucked in our breath. smoke of death when we were fourteen! It tasted like pekka. We would have loved it if there was raspberry flavour, but we started smoking anyway. Like fools, by the way. At the same time: 90 per cent of our friends who tried it did NOT start smoking. They were not fools.
Do you see what I mean? It's more than just the flavours. For someone who hasn't experienced it, it's hard to explain.

E-cigarettes do not fit Vision Zero

If we look at the statistics today, we see that more than 40% of all secondary school students have tried an e-cigarette at some point. This is public statistics from the Central Association for Alcohol and Drug Education (CAN).. The same statistics show that the proportion of young people aged 14-17 who use e-cigarettes regularly is only around one (1) per cent. And that these young people have largely tried, or already smoke, cigarettes before their debut. 10 to 20 per cent of young people aged 14-17 smoke regularly, just for comparison.

The government is skipping that last bit in its investigation. This is probably deliberate. They don't want ANYONE under eighteen even looking at an e-cig. They have a zero vision. They want to kill ANYTHING that resembles smoking. Regardless of the risk of harm.
"E-cigarettes can be dangerous and can also lead to smoking later on" says the government's investigators.
Yes, or not. "Can" is a fancy word that can mean just about anything.

Public health up in smoke?

Because it MAY also be that the government investigators are completely wrong. That e-cigarettes, just as CAN formulates it, in reality attract the young people who would probably turned to cigarettes sooner or later anyway.. IF that is the case, then an aggressive flavour ban will have very different consequences than they anticipate. IF e-cigarettes attract both established and would-be smokers away from cigarettes, AWAY from smoking tobacco, as the statistics suggest - what happens if we more or less ban the flavourful alternative?
That's right: smoke of death rules again! Public health be damned.
Because it wasn't the flavours that drove us crazy. But it's hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it.

Lobby does not fit the garage mentality

If the flavour ban is enforced, a majority of Sweden's dedicated vejp shops will probably close down. Flavoured e-juice represents roughly 90% of the shops' sales. Less than 20% of this is tobacco flavours, the rest menthol, fruit and candy flavours. Which company can cope with losing 70 per cent of its sales?

The burning passion that once drove ambitious stop-smoking missionaries out of their garages is slowly fading. Sure, everything can be solved with a little ingenuity. Like offsetting laws that limit nicotine strength with higher-powered devices, selling nicotine-free e-juices to bring down prices when nicotine is taxed to the hilt. Like selling flavourless nicotine caps for pouring into nicotine-free e-juices to reduce taxes. And so on. But still.
"Enough is enough". 
So say many of the small business owners who make up Sweden's e-cigarette industry. The battle to lure smokers away from the smoke of death simply costs too much.

"Write an opinion piece, Stefan!"

I have a background in journalism and run a small newspaper (you are reading it now) about e-cigarettes, in addition to working in shops. And when the government's proposal for a flavour ban landed in my email inbox, I asked trade association me for help.
"We must make our voices heard. Write an opinion piece, Stefan!"

I cautiously admitted that it might take more than an opinion piece to convince our politicians that a flavour ban does more harm than good.
"There are children and money involved," I said, "It can get messy."
Instead, my plan was to try to bring politicians together with vejpers, juice producers and representatives of companies in the sector. Give the vejp thing a face, as it were. Show that these are not greedy tobacco companies. This is passion and drive to reach and help smokers quit.
"And it's not enough to just say 'NO, we don't agree to this'!"
I tried. 

Death knell for the industry

The reaction was a bit disappointing. The investigation is based on, according to them, grossly misleading assumptions about what e-cigarettes really are and how they are used. The proposal to ban flavours is so comprehensive that not even the almighty Thanos could snap his fingers and undo the damage. It will be a death blow to the industry and will open the doors to tobacco companies which can boast of substandard heat-not-burn products with its 'traditional tobacco flavours'. 

So I tried to attract them a bit with strategies. Lobbying is not my strong point, but you have to try.
"What, if you had a say, would you like to do to honour the government's proposal - without banning flavours?"

"We're not going to give them a damn thing!"

And somewhere there, Quest lost it completely. We stood at the counter in his corona-secured shop, with a vejp ban and all. It's a bit difficult, we're not really allowed to vejp in the shops. It's the law. If it looks like smoke, it is smoke, sort of. De-normalisation is the political word. Vision Zero. Something Quest and his resident coilmaker Gustav pointed out to me repeatedly as I nervously puffed away during the discussion.

"We're not going to give them anything. We must protest. They are wrong. They are lying!"

Quest thundered. Not angry really. He thunders no matter what he does. He's a living battering ram.

"But it's all about tactics. We have to make them listen, show them that we understand their position..."


"There is no try!"

It struck me that the core of this whole story is about power. The power to influence people's lives. Not just economically, but also inside the soul. The government has the power to utterly destroy the financial future of Quest and all other committed 1TP8 Hope owners. At the same time, the government takes the liberty to blacken a vision. Their vision. That dream of actually making a difference. The realisation that they have found something that can change the lives of all smokers. It's powerful, and it means something. No matter what the government thinks. 

Quest is a classy salesman. Before he got on the 1TP8 train, he was selling toilet paper and detergent over the phone. He is the most direct person I know. Yes or no. A walking version of "Do or do not, there is no try." When government investigators set up a barricade, Quest will not try to walk around it, or try to dismantle it. He will try to walk THROUGH it.
"There is no try".

Maintaining power over oneself

And in many ways it symbolises the entire Swedish e-cigarette industry. They're not lobbyists who look into the nooks and crannies to plant seeds of change. They can't sit down and negotiate something that goes against their core beliefs: that e-cigarettes actually work well for smoking cessation. Or that age limits should be enough to keep young people away from their products; or that a flavour ban, albeit in a modified form, will destroy the whole business idea - enticing smokers to choose e-cigarettes JUST because they taste better. Quest is a symbol of that resistance. It is, consciously or unconsciously, a way of maintaining power over oneself. And its vision.

The enemy is tobacco and Quest is a weapon.

Hopefully, politicians who are somehow in positions of preparing the bill will understand the implications of banning flavours in e-liquid. Maybe even realise that flavours in e-cigarettes are not a threat - but an opportunity. That entrepreneurs like Quest are a force to be reckoned with - not stopped with barricades. That he is a fierce ally against their common enemy - the tobacco companies and their deadly cigarettes.
He is standing in his shop in Gothenburg. On the second long street.
Just pay him a visit.
If you dare.

Stefan Mathisson
Editor-in-Chief of
and probably the worst lobbyist in Sweden

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3 Comments on “Visionen som kan rädda liv – dör med smakförbudet

  1. I agree with you Stefan and you others I mean I am very close to start smoking cigarettes again as vape without flavour does not give me the motivation to stop with cancer sticks. Because if it is not tastier than cancer sticks, the government, what reason do I have to be afraid of my health when you do not give me and many others an opportunity to be afraid of their health. ????? Government can you give us an answer???

  2. On 3 June 2016 I was at the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at Akademiska due to fibroma in the mouth. By chance I mentioned that the lymph node on the left side was swollen, maybe tonsillitis? The doctor looked and felt, and then looked seriously at me and said: that is not tonsillitis.
    It turned out to be tonsil cancer.
    The doctor said I had to stop smoking, but since I was smoking about 30 a day, I had to get help to stop.
    I have e-cigs at home, I said, can I use them? He almost broke into a big smile, yes, he said e-cigs can be used as much as you want, as long as you burn the tobacco. The uncle said the same thing. Today, 5 years later, and cleared of the cancer, the doctors still say the same thing, despite 28 mg of nicotine.

    If they were to ban the flavours, I find it hard to see how I would be able to continue vejpa. Then it will be tobacco again, because I can't do without the nicotine.

    1. Great to hear, Irene! And worrying. But whatever happens with flavours in the future, it's important not to forget that vejpning (with all its implications) is a technology, and one that was developed by smokers at the grassroots level to get rid of the cigarette. E-liquid consists of glycerine, propylene glycol and flavourings. More cocooning than anything else. And just like when nicotine strength and bottle sizes were regulated to death by the EU and Swedish authorities a few years ago, someone will find a solution to keep the technology (and flavours) alive. For those who vejpat for a while, it will work, with a few tricks. It's worse for those who found themselves in the same position as you did five years ago. And for the companies that sell e-liquid for a living. Any obstacle is a big obstacle.
      Your story so incredibly important! Thank you for sharing!

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