Government announces ban on disposable vapes for children's healthas it takes a firm stance on the increasing uptake of vaping among young people. Alongside this prohibition, measures will be implemented to curb marketing aimed at children and crack down on underage sales.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has emphasized that while disposable vapes will be prohibited, adult smokers looking to quit will still have access to alternative vaping products. The ban is set to be enforced across the UK, with the government highlighting disposable vapes as a significant contributor to the surge in youth vaping.
According to data from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity, the proportion of 11 to 17-year-olds who vape regularly or occasionally has risen to 7.6%, up from 4.1% in 2020. In his announcement, Mr. Sunak stressed the necessity of robust measures to prevent vaping among children, signaling a concerted effort to address this public health issue.
Children shouldn't be vaping, we don't want them to get addicted, we still don't understand the full long-term health impacts.- UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
The UK Vaping Industry Association has voiced concerns, stating that vapes have been instrumental in assisting "millions of adults to quit smoking and remain smoke-free." They cautioned that the proposed measures could inadvertently escalate the black market, posing risks to children.
Prime Minister Sunak has indicated that the proposals aim to strike a delicate balance between limiting access for minors while ensuring that adult smokers seeking alternatives have options available to them. The NHS has noted that while vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, the long-term health effects are still unknown.
While nicotine is addictive, health services do not consider it to be one of the most harmful components in cigarettes. However, the vapor from e-cigarettes can still contain traces of these chemicals.
These proposals come in the wake of last year's announcement of a ban on cigarette sales to individuals born on or after January 1, 2009, as part of efforts to foster a "smoke-free generation." Former Prime Minister Liz Truss has voiced opposition to the proposed ban, labeling it as "profoundly unconservative."
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins expressed confidence to the BBC that the upcoming bill concerning vapes would successfully pass through Parliament before the anticipated general election, likely to occur this year, with implementation slated for early 2025. Retailers will have a six-month window to comply once the timeline is finalized.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer voiced support for a ban on disposable vapes but criticized what he deemed a two-year delay by the government in introducing legislation. He suggested that the bill could be expedited using existing environmental protection legislation.
Campaigners have long contended that disposable vapes are environmentally wasteful and pose challenges in safe disposal due to the materials and chemicals they contain, including lithium batteries.
The proposed changes would grant authorities the power to prohibit the sale of refillable vapes in flavors marketed toward children and mandate that they be packaged in simpler, less enticing packaging. Additionally, regulations would require shops to display refillable vapes out of sight from children and separate from other items they may purchase, such as sweets.
A forthcoming public consultation will determine which flavors will be banned and the sales arrangements for refillable vapes, according to the government. To combat underage sales, stricter fines will be imposed on shops in England and Wales found illegally selling vapes to minors.
Glyn Potts, head teacher of Oldham's Newham Catholic College, emphasized the need to curb the exposure of children to "attractive" products both online and in retail settings. He also raised concerns about reports of vape pens being repurposed to contain "cannabis derivatives," potentially posing health risks to young people.
Furthermore, nicotine pouches, an alternative to vaping that releases nicotine without tobacco and is currently legal for sale to under-18s, will also be banned for children. Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have committed to implementing bans, either through legislation in their respective parliaments or by supporting nationwide measures in the UK.
Despite the absence of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland due to a breakdown in power sharing, the Department of Health stated its commitment to the long-standing goal of achieving a tobacco-free status and indicated preparations for incoming ministers to address the ban.
The UK's decision to ban disposable vapes aligns it with a select group of nations pursuing similar measures, including Australia, France, Germany, and New Zealand, with New Zealand being the only country to have implemented such bans thus far.
While the UK's plans represent a significant step, some argue they still fall short. Suggestions include imposing taxes on e-cigarettes to align them with tobacco products, a measure already implemented in Australia where vapes are available only through prescription.
A woman using a yellow disposable vape
Dr. Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, emphasized the importance of creating a "smoke-free generation" to reduce the risk of young people developing preventable diseases later in life.
However, the UK Vaping Industry Association expressed dismay at the announcement, highlighting the significant role disposable vapes have played in assisting millions of adults in quitting smoking. They called for better enforcement of existing laws, criticizing the proposals as a political maneuver that could exacerbate the black market and put children at greater risk.
Elf Bar, a major vape manufacturer along with its sister brand Lost Mary, supported the government's aim to prevent children from using vapes but expressed disappointment with the outright ban.
British American Tobacco's UK arm, the third-largest player in the disposable vape market, suggested that increased controls on importation, appeal, and access would be more effective in reducing underage use.
Trading Standards officers emphasized the need for more resources and time to effectively crack down on rogue retailers. Local authorities have the power to impose fines of up to £2,500, and the government announced a £30 million package to support enforcement efforts in October.