The Health and Social Care Committee of the House of Commons has asked the government to consider bringing restrictions on packaging and marketing of vapes in line with those that apply to tobacco products to “tackle a rise in use among children”.
The committee said the government can maintain a public health message on the potential value of vapes as a tool to help smokers to quit while ensuring that its messaging and education, enforcement and regulatory approach keeps them out of sight and reach of children.
“Decisive action is needed now from both [the] government and industry to tackle an alarming trend in the number of children vaping and to protect them from its harmful effects,” Steve Brine MP, the chair of the committee, said.
The Tory MP claimed that the vaping industry has not gone far enough to ensure that its products don’t appeal to children.
“When you have brightly coloured and branded vapes with flavours that name unicorns, sweets and popular fizzy drinks displayed in locations ranging from newsagents to chicken shops, it’s disingenuous for the industry to claim otherwise,” he said.
The committee has also urged the government to review resources and enforcement powers of trading standards to prevent vapes being sold to children and assess the impact on use among children and smokers on lower incomes of a proposed excise tax on disposable vapes, which would also help to protect against imports of illegal products.
“Ministers need to focus, across government, on the impact vaping is having in our schools, whether that be setting off smoke alarms in toilets or restricting access to them entirely for young people. We’ve heard this issue is really impacting on the delivery of education in schools and, post-pandemic in particular, this is the last thing we can afford,” Brine added.
Reacting to the committee’s recommendations, experts noted that the key challenge for the government would be to balance the benefits of e-cigarettes for helping smokers quit cigarettes, with the potential risks they have for encouraging youth vaping.
“The letter calls for restrictions on packaging and marketing of vapes, akin to those that apply to tobacco products. However, the devil will be in the detail,” commented Prof Lion Shahab, Professor of Health Psychology and Co-Director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group.
“Brightly coloured e-cigarettes, flavours and ads with apparent youth appeal need to be restricted, but it is important that no regulatory equivalence is drawn with cigarettes.
“Cigarette use still kills 75,000 people each year in the UK, and e-cigarettes have helped drive down smoking rates in the adult population. Yet, recent negative press has meant that, even among smokers, nearly 60 per cent now believe that – compared with cigarettes – e-cigarettes are as or more harmful, which may discourage switching to these harm reduction products.”
Prof Shahab also noted that studies in the US showed that flavour restrictions and tax increases imposed on e-cigarettes have the desired effect of reducing e-cigarette use but, unfortunately, also increases cigarette use.
“Finding a happy medium of regulations will not be easy but agreeing on the desirable outcome of any policy change should be: for adult smokers e-cigarettes ought to be more easily available (and appealing) than cigarettes, while adolescents should not be targeted by e-cigarette companies nor should underage youth be able to access e-cigarettes (or any tobacco product) in retail outlets,” he said.