In the government's sights for a few months, the ban on the "puff", a disposable vape with colourful packaging and sweet tastes, should become a reality on Monday 4 December. A real star among teenagers, this single-use electronic cigarette is singled out for its risks to health and the environment, an "aberration for both public health and the environment", sums up Aurélien Rousseau, the Minister of Health and Prevention.
While the bill proposed by Francesca Pasquini (ecologist) and Michel Lauzzana (Macronist) was unanimously approved on Tuesday 28 November in committee, it remains to be seen whether the same will be true in the hemicycle on Monday 4 December. Before enacting a definitive ban hoped for by the start of the 2024 school year, the text will have to go through the Senate.
Luring a non-smoker into addiction
Smoking has been declining among young people for several years," explains Alice Denoiz, coach and tobacconist. So, manufacturers are marketing new products for "recreational" use to appeal to teenagers. "The industrialists' argument is that there is no combustion, but we obviously have to be wary of this, because their objective is to get young people to start with these products, to attract them later to cigarettes," warns the tobacconist. Indeed, a study by the Alliance Against Tobacco published on 14 November reveals the worrying notoriety of new cigarette-derived products: nicotine pouches and pearls.
Presented as an aid to quit smoking, nicotine pearls, marketed in France under the brand "Nicopop", take the form of marbles and the taste of flavored sweets. Icy mint, red fruits, or even tropical taste... As with the puffs, multiple flavours are available. Nicotine pearls have a single rate set at 8mg per gram. "This rate is too low for a smoker who would like to quit, but strong enough to attract a non-smoker into addiction. Especially teenagers who are much more receptive to nicotine because of their brain immaturity," explains Amélie Eschenbrenner, communications manager of the National Committee Against Smoking, who points out that a cigarette contains between 1 and 3 mg of nicotine.
The different flavors of nicotine pearls sold on the Nicopop brand website. https://nicopop.com/fr/
Much more concentrated in nicotine (they can go up to 20mg per unit), sachets, called "nicopouches", are also in vogue. Imported from Scandinavian countries, they are gradually spreading in France under the aegis of the cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco (Lucky Strike, Vogue, Dunhill, Pall Mall, etc.), which already markets them in a dozen European countries under the brand "Velo". Not to be confused with SNUS (tobacco powder) which has been banned throughout the EU except Sweden since 1992, even if the instructions for use are the same: these small white and rasping sachets that can also be flavoured slip between the lip and the gums. "The sales strategy of these pouches is different from that of the puff," says Amélie Eschenbrenner. Widely consumed by high-level athletes, they are "associated with a healthy lifestyle," she laments.
The boxes of "nicopouches" sold on the Velo website. https://www.velo.com/
'Extremely strong dosages'
In the study by the Alliance Against Tobacco, we learn that knowledge of nicotine pearls and pouches is higher among teenagers between 15 and 16 years old, who have two parents who smoke (33% for pearls and 27% for nicopouches) and even more marked among young people who have already used puffs (44% for pearls and 32% for nicopouches).
A thesis that is confirmed in front of a private school in the west of Paris, where middle and high school students, almost all of whom are fans of the puff, have heard about these products. When 17-year-old Chloe first tried a "nicopouche," she was on vacation. "I was with some sports friends, the footballers, they all take it!" She exclaims before adding: "It didn't attract me that much, plus I have friends who reacted badly and threw up...", electronic cigarette in hand. The same goes for Jeremy, who says he tried it on the occasion of a friend's 16th birthday, "We were all elsewhere, but some of us reacted really badly..." he admits.
This headache, which can lead to vomiting, is due to the "overdose of nicotine" which "makes you addicted very quickly", explains Loic Josseran, president of the Alliance Against Tobacco. "Nicopouches have the same addictive potential as puffs with extremely high nicotine dosages, they are not a withdrawal product as people would have us believe. These dosages can have very dangerous health effects," says the epidemiologist.
A rechargeable puff not affected by the law?
Health professionals all deplore the accessibility of nicotine products. "The real problem is selling to minors, tobacconists have every interest in selling to children even if it's forbidden," explains Loïc Josseran. "It's the essence of their business model," he sighs, welcoming the ban.
However, in the vicinity of our private Parisian establishment, the upcoming ban on puffs does not cause panic. "In any case, we already buy them illegally," says Achille, 14, who explains that in middle school, all puff smokers use "sellers" contacted directly on social networks and paid in cash.
Similar to drug dealers, these "sellers" promote their products on the social networks Snapchat and Instagram, and even go so far as to contact young people directly. "Sells and delivers throughout Paris and its suburbs with delivery", or "One puff bought, one free, only this week, take advantage of it", we can read on "stories" (ephemeral publication lasting 24 hours, editor's note). Instagram and Snapchat.
Manufacturers have already anticipated the ban with a new kind of puff, such as those marketed by "RandM tornado", warns Amélie Eschenbrenne. Unlike the so-called "classic" single-use puff, this other type of puff, which is also disposable and pre-filled, is refillable, "which could allow it to escape the ban," continues Amélie Eschenbrenne. This state-of-the-art vape contains 9000 puffs and costs 15 euros, while a classic puff with 600 puffs costs about 9 euros.
Puff "RandM tornado", belonging to middle school students in Paris. Shaya Baldassari/ Le Figaro
Colourful marketing and children's world
After graduating from college, some young people say they have heard about nicotine balls on Tiktok, others have already tried it but are not very enthusiastic. If middle school students are not fond of these nicotine products derived from cigarettes, they are still very sensitive to colorful marketing and the children's universe. "I don't think nicotine candy and pouches will ever replace puffs," says 14-year-old Simon, who is echoed by all the friends present. "What we like is the gesture and the smoke that tastes good, there's no point in putting a candy under your tongue or a sachet under your gums," adds Iris, another 3rd grader, who smokes the puff regularly.
The tobacco control plan includes the extension of "plain packaging", without a brand logo, to all tobacco and vaping products. This is "very good news" for tobacconist Alice Denoiz, who believes that "switching to plain packaging would be a huge game-changer". "A real smoker doesn't need packaging," adds Loic Josseran, who implores that tobacconists no longer look like "Disneyland".