Disposable vapes to be banned over fears for children’s health

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By Hugh Pym, health editor, & Christy Cooney
BBC News

Disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of plans to tackle the rising number of young people taking up vaping, the government says.

Measures will also be introduced to prevent vapes being marketed at children and to target underage sales.

Figures from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity suggest 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds now vape regularly or occasionally, up from 4.1% in 2020.

The ban is expected to be introduced across the UK, the government said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to explain the plans during a visit to a school on Monday.

“As any parent or teacher knows, one of the most worrying trends at the moment is the rise in vaping among children, and so we must act before it becomes endemic,” he said in a statement.

It follows last year’s announcement of a ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 as part of an attempt to create a “smoke-free generation”.

It is already illegal to sell any vape to anyone under 18, but the government said disposable vapes – often sold in smaller, more colourful packaging than refillable ones – are a “key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping”.

It is not yet clear when the ban will be introduced, but it could be brought in using existing legislation designed to protect the environment.

Campaigners have long argued that disposable vapes are wasteful and that the materials and chemicals used to make them, including their lithium batteries, make them difficult to dispose of safely.

Once the timing is confirmed, retailers will be given six months to implement it.

The latest changes would also introduce powers to stop refillable vapes being sold in a flavour marketed at children and to require that they be produced in plainer, less appealing packaging.

The government will also be able to mandate that shops display refillable vapes out of sight of children and away from other products they might buy, like sweets.

A further public consultation will take place to decide which flavours should be banned and how refillable vapes will be sold, the government said.

Among the child-friendly vape flavours currently available are those inspired by cookies, jam and energy drinks.

To help stop underage sales, additional fines will be brought in for any shops in England and Wales caught selling vapes illegally to children.

Vaping alternatives like nicotine pouches – small white pouches that are placed between the lip and gum – will also be banned for children. The pouches release nicotine but do not contain tobacco, so can currently be legally sold to under-18s.

While vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking, it has not been around for long enough for its long-term risks to be known, according to the NHS.

Health leaders will nevertheless be keen to ensure that the new measures do not make it harder for adult smokers to move to vaping as an alternative.

This is where the consultation over how far to go with restrictions on flavours and displays in shops will be important.

The announcement follows an initial consultation launched late last year by the UK government and devolved administrations to gauge public attitudes to measures being proposed to reduce levels of smoking and vaping.

The government said almost 70% of respondents supported a ban on disposable vapes.

The Scottish and Welsh governments both said they would introduce bans, either with legislation in their own parliaments or by supporting UK-wide measures.

Scotland’s public health minister, Jenni Minto, said disposable vapes were a “threat to both public health” and that the Scottish government wanted to “do more to achieve our goal of being tobacco-free in Scotland by 2034”.

Wales’s deputy minister for wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, said that “vaping carries a risk of harm and addiction for children” and that “we want to take all actions possible to prevent youth vaping”.

Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration following a breakdown of power sharing, but its Department of Health said it had “a long-standing strategic aim for a tobacco-free Northern Ireland” and would make preparations to allow incoming ministers to take a decision on the ban.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said that the “government’s strategy is the right one: stop smoking initiation, support smokers to quit…, while protecting children by curbing youth vaping”.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the organisation was “thrilled to see the government take the first necessary steps to create a smoke-free generation”.

“By stopping children and young people from ever starting to smoke we decrease their chances of developing preventable diseases later in life,” she said.

‘Desperate attempt’

In a statement, the UK Vaping Industry Association said disposable vapes have “played a key role in helping millions of adults quit and stay off cigarettes” and that it was “dismayed” by the announcement.

“While action to prevent youth access to vaping is critical, this move smacks more of a desperate attempt by the government to sacrifice vapers for votes,” it said.

It added that the ban would put children at greater risk by “turbo-charging the black market” and increasing the availability of illicit vapes. Instead, it said there should be better enforcement of the current laws.

Eve Peters, UK director of government affairs for Elf Bar, one of the country’s biggest vape manufacturers with sister brand Lost Mary, said the company supported the government’s wish to stop children using vapes but that it was “disappointed with the outright ban”.

The UK has joined a small group of countries planning to ban disposable vapes. Australia, France, Germany, and New Zealand have all announced similar plans, although only New Zealand has so far implemented them.

Some will argue the UK’s plans still don’t go far enough. There have been calls for a tax on e-cigarettes to bring them in line with tobacco, while Australia has made vapes available only by prescription.

Trading Standards officers also say more resources are needed to help crack down on rogue retailers, and it may take some time and a different range of policies to stop vapes with damaging illegal content coming into the UK and reaching children.

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