Children’s doctors call for ban on disposable vapes

Ministers have pledged to close a loophole allowing retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England (Alamy/PA)
Ministers have pledged to close a loophole allowing retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England (Alamy/PA)

Paediatricians have warned that “youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children” as they called on the Government to ban disposable vapes.

In response to the Government consultation on e-cigarettes, which closes on Tuesday, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) warned that e-cigarettes “are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes”.

It is calling for urgent action to protect youngsters, saying experts agree that longer-term data is needed on the effects of vaping, particularly in regard to cardiovascular disease.

“However, since e-cigarettes have only been on sale in the UK since 2007, long-term studies don’t yet exist,” it said.

“We have even less evidence on the long-term impacts of these products on young lungs, hearts and brains.

“It took experts decades to fully understand the impact of traditional cigarettes, we cannot risk our children’s health in waiting this long again for longer-term studies.”

In May, data for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) showed there has been a 50% rise in the last year in Great Britain in the proportion of children trying vaping.

It found a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7% last year to 11.6% this year.

Children were asked if they had ever tried vaping once or twice, with the proportion roughly doubling in nine years, from 5.6% in 2014 to 11.6%.

Disposable vapes appear to be the e-cigarette of choice among youngsters, while purchases of vapes are mostly made from corner shops.

In 2021, current child vapers were least likely to vape disposables (7.7%) but in 2022 they became the most used (52%) and this has continued to grow to 69% in 2023.

It is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s but social media carries posts from teenagers showing vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry, banana and mango.

In its submission, the RCPCH also said the “serious environmental impact of disposable e-cigarettes” must not be ignored.

Its vice president for policy and paediatric respiratory consultant, Dr Mike McKean, said: “Without a doubt, disposable e-cigarettes should be banned.

“There is absolutely no reason that these cheap, readily available, brightly coloured, recreational products should be single use.

“Youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children, and I fear that if action is not taken, we will find ourselves sleepwalking into a crisis.

“Westminster’s approach to this problem is out of step with even our closest neighbours, with countries such as Scotland, France, Germany, and Ireland all seriously considering a ban…

“The Government in Westminster has the responsibility and capability to make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences, potentially for generations to come.”

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said disposable vapes were “the last thing our children and the planet need”, adding: “They waste resources that are critical to the green transition – like lithium needed for the batteries that power electric cars.

“They’re extremely harmful when littered, because their batteries are a fire risk and the plastic and nicotine they contain are hazardous. And recycling them will always be labour-intensive and expensive.”

Elsewhere, in its response to the consultation, Ash said there were “four high-impact interventions” that ministers must urgently bring in.

They are: put a specific tax on disposable vapes of £5; prohibit branding that would appeal to children; reinstate funding for sustained anti-smoking campaigns promoting vaping as the most effective quitting aid available for adult smokers; and prohibit in-store promotion of e-cigarettes with exemptions for age-restricted, specialist vape shops.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said a new Government crackdown on vape marketing will prevent the “unacceptable” targeting of children and young people, with a pledge to close a loophole allowing retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England.

The Prime Minister also used an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to express concern about his own daughters potentially being targeted by vape marketing.

The Government has said that there will also be a review into banning retailers selling “nicotine-free” vapes to under-18s.

Regarding its evidence to ministers, Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said it called for tougher regulations last year but was ignored.

“Now that the Prime Minister is convinced, perhaps action will finally be taken,” she said.

“Children are highly price sensitive so top of our list is to make disposable vapes less affordable by adding a £5 excise tax, which could be achieved immediately with a finance bill.

“This would not only increase the price but also make their distribution subject to much more stringent controls, making it easier to prevent illicit and underage sales.”

Ash said it does not support a complete ban on disposable vapes at this time, believing it will drive “the illicit market thereby making it harder not easier to ensure products are recycled”.

It also said it recognises that disposable vapes may have a role to play for some groups of particularly disadvantaged smokers.

Kate Pike, regional co-ordinator, Trading Standards North West and lead officer for vaping for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “Applying excise tax to disposable vapes could give Border Force and HMRC more powers to stop illegal products being imported.

“Powers to impose enhanced on-the-spot fines would be a step in the right direction, but retailers have told me that the profits to be made from selling illegal vapes, and illegal tobacco too, are so large, that fines have little impact.

“What we really need is a requirement for all tobacco and vape retailers to be licensed, and powers to remove licences from retailers found guilty of underage and/or illicit sales.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “It is illegal to sell nicotine vapes to children and we are concerned about the recent rises in youth vaping – particularly because of the unknown long-term harms.

“We are taking bold action to crack down on youth vaping through the £3 million illicit vapes enforcement squad to tackle underage sales to children.

“We have also launched a call for evidence to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products and explore where the government can go further.”