When James Price finally kicked his 20-year daily chewing tobacco habit, he noticed a surprising side effect. Many tobacco users gain weight when they quit—both because they snack to keep their mind off cravings and because nicotine is an appetite suppressant—but Price started to lose weight. He says he lost 26 lbs, and he's kept it off in the four years since he quit.
"It was probably a good year before I realized that I had actually replaced snacking with vaping," Price told me over the phone. "I was a snack grabber, I really was, and I realized that when I'd get the urges in my mind, something just took over. I'd think about getting candy and then go grab a liquid I had made instead without even thinking."
Using vaping as a way to quit smoking has become a familiar narrative (most vapers in the US are current or former smokers) and there's growing scientific evidence of the effectiveness of vaping as a smoking cessation tool. The idea that vaping could have the added benefit of curbing a sweet tooth isn't as well known, but Price isn't the only vaper who says e-cigarettes have stopped him from reaching for sweets.
Vapers have been discussing this unintended side-effect of their new habit for years on forums and message boards, saying vaping has helped them from mindless snacking or indulging their sweet tooth too often.
"Whenever I get a craving for something sweet, I just vape instead of eating a sleeve of Oreos," one Redditor wrote earlier this year. In another thread from last year, multiple vapers said they had a similar experience, and that vaping had even helped them lose weight.
Still, others have said vaping only triggered their cravings for sweets, showing how far from conclusive these anecdotes are. There are no studies I could find on the possible sweet-tooth-curbing effects of vaping, but there is one survey that investigated the importance of a variety of flavors.
The survey found most vapers considered having access to lots of different flavors to be very important to fighting off cigarette cravings, and noted that those who had successfully quit smoking tended to switch flavors more often than those who were still smoking and vaping.
Understanding how and why vapers use flavored e-liquids is important, because it's a major sticking point in both policy and public perception. Many lawmakers and public health advocates say the sweet flavors are appealing to kids, and with options like bubble gum and birthday cake, it's hard to argue they're not. The Food and Drug Administration even tried to ban flavors from e-cigarettes in its proposed regulations, although the Office of Management and Budget struck this from the final rules.
Many vapers claim the sweet flavors were key to successfully quitting smoking, however, and some even say there have been extra benefits, like less junk food.
Price mixes up new flavors depending on what he's craving: ice cream, chocolate cake, gummy bears, you name it. "I have a really special vape that's a blue raspberry cotton candy," he said. "My recipe has fruit punch, lemon, lime, two different kinds of raspberries, one blue raspberry, and it turns into this incredible candy flavor that's almost like you have a candy in your mouth."
The concern over sweet flavors appealing to kids is understandable and should be considered when regulating vaping. But how the flavors affect the behavior of vapers also needs to be investigated, especially if there's a chance they're helping people kick two bad habits at once: smoking and junk food.