The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has today announced that the sale and supply of disposable vapes will be banned in England, Scotland, and Wales, with Northern Ireland still considering plans to follow suit. The announcement follows a period of consultation at the end of 2023, which aimed to gauge public attitudes to smoking and vaping. It has been reported that 70% of respondents supported the ban on disposable vapes.
Although the U.K. already places strict controls over the strength and capacity of disposable vapes (20mg/ml and 2ml capacity,) there has been growing concern about how many children regularly use them. Research suggests that the number of children using vapes has tripled in the last three years, with around 69% of 11-17-year-olds choosing disposables.
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:
“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. The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable.”
There has also been growing concern about the environmental impact of disposable vapes (although this doesn’t appear to have been a core focus of the Prime Minister’s announcement,) with an estimated 5 million of the devices thrown out each week in the United Kingdom, up from 1.3 million the year before. Over 12 months, that is equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles being wasted.
Alongside the complete ban on the sale of disposables, new powers will be introduced to restrict the flavors available for refillable vapes, force vape liquids and devices to be sold in plain packaging, and prevent stores from displaying vapes in a way that might appeal to children.
The announcement has been met with approval by many health professionals and anti-smoking groups, but not everyone agrees that banning disposable vapes is the best course of action. A statement on the UK Vaping Industry Association website says that it is “dismayed” at the decision, and that:
“disposable vapes have been instrumental in bringing the UK’s smoking rates down to a record low and have played a key role in helping millions of adults quit and stay off cigarettes.”
The statement goes on to say that:
“This move smacks more of a desperate attempt by the government to sacrifice vapers for votes ahead of the upcoming General Election. If the government thinks banning disposables will help protect young people, they are completely misguided. This counterproductive legislation will sooner put children at greater risk by turbo-charging the black market and, in turn, making it easier for them to access illicit and non-compliant vapes.”
Concern is not limited to pro-vaping bodies, with research from University College London, released only a week before the announcement, suggesting that the new legislation could have adverse consequences for the millions of adults who have successfully used disposable vapes to quit smoking tobacco.
Professor Jamie Brown, UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, said:
“A ban may discourage use of e-cigarettes among people trying to quit smoking and may induce relapse among those who have already used disposables to quit. Cigarettes are far more harmful to our health and are not currently banned and a ban on disposable e-cigarettes may signal to large numbers of people that these products are worse for our health or that their harm is comparable to that caused by smoking tobacco.”
The exact date the ban will come into effect has yet to be announced, but it will likely be towards the end of 2024. This will allow the proposed new legislation to be voted on in the Parlaments of each country, after which a grace period of around six months will be given to vape businesses to clear existing stock and adapt to the new laws.