Vaping consumer bodies have warned that the government would be making a ‘grave mistake’ if it decides to ban disposable vapes, calling it a ‘significant over-reaction to the exaggerated perception of harms to youth’.
The government on Thursday announced a consultation, setting out a range of options to reduce vape product availability to young people.
The consultation proposes restrictions on the sale of disposable vapes, ‘child-friendly’ vape flavours and packaging and the display in retail outlets. The disposable vape restrictions include a proposal for prohibiting their sale and supply.
The consultation also proposes to make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products. Products that would be in scope of the change also include heated tobacco products, which is considered as a smokefree product as they heat tobacco instead of burning it, producing a nicotine-containing aerosol that is fundamentally different from cigarette smoke.
Responding, the New Nicotine Alliance UK noted that the public health organisations such as Action on Smoking and Health, Fresh Balance and NCSCT are opposed to a ban.
“The convenience and wide choice of flavours are useful for helping smokers to switch to a safer product, especially amongst heavier smokers and disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Disposable vapes don’t require refilling and recharging, so are easier to use. People who have problems with dexterity find them very useful and their low cost and convenience helps to prevent relapse to smoking,” the consumer body said in a statement.
It added that banning the regulated market does not make sense as industry estimates show that over 50 per cent of single use vapes in circulation are already illegal.
“Illicit sellers would continue to import and supply unregulated and potentially unsafe nicotine vaping products to adults and young people, but with increased competitive advantage in the absence of regulated products,” the statement noted.
On the concerns about youth vaping, it cited surveys that suggest that most youth vaping is experimental or amongst adolescents who were already smoking.
“Much is made of the range of flavours but it is important to recognise that fruit, dessert and candy flavours are the most popular category among adult vapers, with more than half of all vapers choosing them. It is clear that single use vape devices are popular among young people. But it seems to have been forgotten that 25 years ago the same demographic would have been initiating their nicotine use from smoking instead of vaping,” the statement said.
“Furthermore, banning these products would equate vaping with smoking in the minds of many people. This will deter many smokers from switching to a far safer alternative and some former smokers who currently vape will return to smoking.”
The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) said the proposed ban is ‘incongruent’ with the UK’s commendable strategy of reducing smoking rates.
“History has shown that outright bans aren’t the answer,” Michael Landl, sirector of the WVA, pointed out. “Such restrictions often inadvertently steer users to unregulated black markets, heightening public health risks.”
Landl also emphasises the instrumental role of disposable vapes in transitioning smokers.
“Disposable vapes are a pivotal bridge for many smokers making the switch. They offer a straightforward first step, with many transitioning to other systems subsequently. Streamlining the journey from smoking to vaping is a benefit to the greater good of public health,” he said.
When it comes to concerns about youth accessibility, Landl stressed the importance of enforcing existing regulations over wholesale prohibitions.
“Robust enforcement of existing age limitations is crucial. We must remember that it’s already illegal for minors to purchase disposable vapes. Overarching bans only complicate matters, pushing the issues underground,” he said.
“Understanding the true reasons why teenagers gravitate towards vaping is essential. It’s not merely about product allure but deeper challenges young people face.”
While curiosity is a natural aspect of adolescence, significant challenges in young people’s lives push them towards riskier activities. A study by the University of Illinois underscored that teenagers less content with their lives often seek out risky behaviours, from substance use to other dangers.
“Instead of singling out products like disposable vapes, we should be diving deeper into the comprehensive well-being of our youth. Enhanced educational, healthcare and economic opportunities can act as real deterrents to risky actions,” Landl added.