On the way to a tobacco- and nicotine-free Switzerland
The Swiss Association for Tobacco Control is the center of competence for tobacco prevention in Switzerland. As an umbrella organization for the promotion of non-smoking, it today comprises over 50 organizational members. AT Switzerland offers its members a broad network of experts and provides expertise on tobacco control and prevention. With evidence-based offers and the networking of the central actors, it is committed to a sustainably healthy and smoke-free Switzerland and at the same time offers the population a hand in quitting smoking and nicotine withdrawal.
An important field of action is the denormalization of the consumption of tobacco and nicotine products. This is because a large part of the population still regards the consumption of lethal tobacco and nicotine products as "normal". Furthermore, the protection of young people is at the center of its work and AT Switzerland would like to encourage smokers on their way to quitting smoking. Finally, AT Switzerland is very concerned to strengthen the protection of the population from passive smoke.
ELFBAR: hypocrisy and double standards in vaping flavours
Following criticism of its flavours that appeal especially to children, ELFBAR, a popular brand of disposable e-cigarettes, intends to abandon sweet flavours in the UK in the future. In Switzerland, however, the sale of such products continues briskly, which clearly shows the industry’s shameless double standards.
ELFBAR, a leading British e-cigarette brand, and its sister company, Lost Mary, are now abandoning flavours reminiscent of sweets and soft drinks, as they have been criticised for their child-friendly flavours, as was made public on 30 November 2023. The company sells more than half of its disposable e-cigarettes in Great Britain and is also one of the most popular brands in Switzerland. According to the latest figures, the consumption of disposable e-cigarettes in particular has increased significantly in our country. According to distributors, sales could have jumped by 2,200 per cent. The attractive products and the large choice of flavours mainly attract a young (and underage) audience.
While ELFBAR has already discontinued certain flavours such as Bubble Gum, Cotton Candy, and Rainbow Candy in Great Britain – with others to follow – the company continues to happily sell its e-cigarettes in Switzerland with the full range of flavours. This once again illustrates the ethical and moral double standards that these companies practice. Furthermore, wanting to rename flavours like Gummy Bears as Gami, to the point of making them apparently unrecognisable, demonstrates a certain hypocrisy and clearly illustrates the mediocre measures the tobacco and nicotine industry is taking to protect young people.
Nevertheless, the tremendous choice of flavours has contributed to the market for disposable cigarettes reaching billions in just a few years, a market in which ELFBAR and Lost Mary take the lion's share. These two companies belong to the Chinese company IMiracle Shenzhen Technology Co. Ltd. According to several studies, a total ban on flavours or a limitation to two standard flavours could encourage young people to stop consuming these products. In Switzerland, the Council of States rejected a proposal along these lines.
ELFBAR opposes a possible new tax on e-cigarettes in Great Britain, arguing that it could encourage former smokers to again turn to illegal e-cigarettes. The organisation Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) criticises the insufficient youth protection measures taken by ELFBAR and stresses the importance of a tax on e-cigarettes to curb the illegal market. In Switzerland, the Parliament decided in June 2023, despite very strong opposition from the tobacco and nicotine industry, that e-cigarettes would again be subject to tobacco tax (from mid-2024). However, the rate decided on is too low to have any impact.
False advertising & dubious greenwashing
But the tobacco industry doesn’t just pursue a hypocritical policy when it comes to flavours, it has also always painted itself with a green veneer through dubious campaigns. For example, in Great Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently banned an ELFBAR advertising campaign using the slogan, "Recycling for a greener future", out of fear that it would be misleading. The banned advertising slogan gave the impression that recycling single-use ENDS was easy and could be done comfortably at home. However, these products generally cannot be recycled at home and must be disposed of at special collection points.
Single-use vapes like ELFBARs pose a great danger to the environment because they are thrown away after use. In addition to their plastic or metal casing and lithium-ion batteries, they generally contain harmful chemical compounds (including cobalt, nickel, lead, and nicotine), which can in turn leak from the device and disperse into the environment. Animals and plants are thus put in danger. Vapes must be disposed of in the same way as electronic waste. A study shows that in 2022, 260 million disposable e-cigarettes were thrown away in Great Britain, making them one of the main causes of the increase in plastic pollution in recent years.
The ads cited above appeared in July and August on buses and digital billboards in London. Alongside the slogans, “Recycling for a greener future” and “Green Awareness”, were images of the ELFBAR 600 V2 Vape.
In its ruling, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that this was misleading advertising.
To counter this worrying development in the spread and inappropriate disposal of single-use vapes, only a total ban on these products, along the lines of what France is planning as part of its 2023-2027 tobacco control strategy, would be effective and necessary.