Public health minister Andrea Leadsom said youth vaping is a top priority for the government, adding that the results of the government consultation are imminent.
She was responding to a Westminster Hall debate last week, where MPs have called for increased efforts to tackle the use and sale of illegal vapes.
Leadsom spoke about the specialised illicit vaping enforcement team announced in April which identifies and seizes illicit vapes at seven ports in the UK, the government has also given £3 million over two years to National Trading Standards and £30m to enforcement agencies over the next five years.
The government has also increased the number of training resources available to teachers and will update the curriculum to include information about the health risks of vaping and has written to police forces to get school liaison officers to keep vapes off the playground. They will also introduce new fixed penalty notices.
Leading the debate, held on 16 January, Peter Gibson acknowledged the role that nicotine replacement products, including vapes, had played in achieving the decrease in smoking rates. He expressed concern about the increase in youth vaping and called for plain packaging for vapes, national awareness campaigns about illegal vaping and licensing for both vapes and tobacco.
Mary Kelly Foy, vice chair of the APPG on Smoking & Health, highlighted the government’s decision to reject her amendments to the Health and Care Bill in 2021 which would have given ministers powers to further regulate vapes. She extended her support for regulation of illicit vaping products and welcomed the government’s announcement on illicit vape enforcement squads but said it needed to go further.
Sally Ann Hart highlighted that vaping, while less harmful than smoking, has unknown long-term health effects and raised concerns about an investigation showing unsafe levels of metals in some e-liquids. Hart brings up the accessibility and prevalence of illicit vapes, which are easily accessible to minors and said the upcoming tobacco and vapes bill should address this.
Dr Caroline Johnson proposed several solutions to the growth in youth vaping including banning disposable vapes, flavours, and public displays; extending smokefree laws to cover vaping in public places and imposing stricter regulations on advertising and marketing. She welcomed the government’s announcement of an illicit vape enforcement squad but said there should be a registration scheme for selling vapes, on the spot fines and an import tax.
Kirsten Oswald expressed her strong opposition to disposable vapes, citing both environmental and health concerns, arguing that disposable vapes are the main choice of young people. Oswald highlighted the environmental impact, drawing attention to the discarded plastic and pollution caused by disposable vapes and their difficult disposal.
Responding for Labour, Preet Kaur Gill, shadow minister for primary care and public health, expressed concern about the rise in youth vaping despite its potential as a smoking cessation tool for adults.
Gill criticised the government’s inaction and lack of effective legislation to protect children from harmful and illegal vapes, mentioning regulatory loopholes allowing nicotine-free vapes (often containing nicotine) to be sold to children and called for nicotine-free vapes to be regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Gill urged the government to take responsibility for the increase in youth vaping, enact stricter regulations banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to children, grant the MHRA greater powers and authority to remove non-compliant products from the market and increase enforcement efforts by trading standards and Border Force.