Are vapes changing to standardised packaging in the UK?

The way your favourite vapes look might be changing, thanks to potential new packaging regulations.

The UK Government is considering changes to vape product packaging as part of its aim to tackle youth vaping. This could result in the standardisation of packaging, the removal of bright and colourful designs and changes to the ways that vapes are displayed.

What are the current laws around vape packaging
The packaging for vaping products is already subject to regulation. The current laws state that unit packaging for vapes and e-cigarettes must include a variety of important information, as stated by the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR). These include things like:

·Instructions for use and storage, as well as a reference to the fact the product is not recommended for use by young people and non-smokers

·Warnings for specific risk groups, as well as information about possible adverse effects, addictiveness and toxicity

·Information about the nicotine content of the product and the delivery per dose

These regulations also state that health warnings should be of a specific size, in a particular font and include the statement: “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance” covering 30% of the front of the pack.

There are also regulations around the kind of claims that vape packaging or promotional advertising can make. For example, packaging shouldn’t have any images or text that encourages consumption by creating a false impression about its characteristics, health effects, risks or emissions or that suggests it is less harmful than other vapes or refill containers. Packaging also can’t claim that any particular vape or refill has vitalising, energising, healing, rejuvenating, natural or organic properties or has other lifestyle benefits.

As there is already precedence when it comes to the regulation of vape packaging there is an existing structure for the potential introduction of measures such as standardised packaging.

Does vape packaging affect youth vaping?
There is evidence to suggest that packaging does have a significant impact on younger consumers – and that vape packaging can affect the choices of vapers. In fact, data from the 2014 Special Eurobarometer for Tobacco survey shows that those aged 15-24 were most likely to cite external packaging and design features as influential when choosing an e-cigarette in comparison to other age groups.

A public health investigation published by JAMA Network Open found that youths aged between 11-18 had higher odds of reporting no interest in trying e-cigarettes when they were presented in standardised green packaging compared to those in branded packaging.

Adults over the age of 18 had lower odds of reporting no interest in trying e-cigarettes in standardised green packaging, suggesting that standardised packaging might act as a deterrent for younger consumers without putting off adults.

Dr Katherine East, Research Associate at King’s IoPPN and senior author for the paper, also said:

“Vapes, and nicotine products in general, should be available to adults who smoke to help them to stop smoking but should not be used by non-smokers under the age of 18. Some current e-cigarette packaging has eye catching and enticing designs. Our study found that removing brand imagery from packs reduced appeal of vapes to teenagers without reducing appeal to adults.

“This is a vital difference, as it means that vapes can still appeal to adults as a tool to stop smoking, particularly because our previous research has established vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking.”

How will standardised packaging help combat underage vaping?
The research presents a strong case for considering the standardisation of packaging as a way to reduce the appeal of vaping for young people, without alienating the adults who could benefit from vaping as a means to quit smoking. When packaging doesn’t have enticing images or bright colours, it seems that younger consumers are less interested in vapes or vaping.

Might standardised packaging deter adult smokers from vaping?
While standardised packaging may offer strong potential in helping to reduce the appeal to underage vapers, it’s also worth considering whether it might have the unwanted effect of reducing the appeal for adults too. Research from IVBTA found that 48% of regular smokers or recent ex-smokers have used a vape to help them to stop smoking. It also discovered that 59% of vapers reported that vape flavours helped them quit, citing the variety as a strong draw.

There is already concern that a flavour ban may impact the number of adult smokers transitioning to vaping and it’s possible that standardised packaging may prove a further barrier, especially if it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

According to Tobacco Control, introducing standardised packaging and a MET was associated with a decline in tobacco sales and tobacco industry revenue and a reduction in cheaper smoking brands designed to appeal to younger smokers. 

How might standardised vape packaging look in shops?
If vape packaging is standardised via new regulations, we’ll see the change reflected in the way vapes are displayed in shops and specialist stores. At the moment, vape manufacturers are free to use bright colours and designs as a way to distinguish their products. They might use posters and display stands as well as brightly coloured boxes or packets. This could all change, should new laws be brought into play, with much more limited colour palettes and fewer images or logos on display.

It's possible to get an idea of the kind of changes that might be imposed by looking at the responses to the Government’s open consultation “Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping”.

When respondents were asked which option they thought would be the most effective way for the UK Government and devolved administrations to restrict the way vapes can be packaged and presented to reduce youth vaping, 46.1% selected prohibiting the use of all imagery and colouring and branding (standardised packaging) for both the vape packaging and vape device.

35.8% believed that prohibiting the use of cartoons, characters, animals, inanimate objects, and other child friendly imagery would be the most effective method. There will be a further consultation on packaging restrictions, and before imposing these, the Government would first need to give themselves the power to implement change. This means there is much more room for change or variation than with the disposable vape ban.

Changes to vape packaging: the timeline
11 April 2023 – A ‘Youth vaping: call for evidence’ opened, calling for information on a range of themes about children and vaping

12 October 2023 – The Government consultation ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping’ is opened

7 November 2023 – Plans for a ‘Tobacco & Vapes Bill’ are announced in the King’s Speech, which would give the Government new powers to regulate vape packaging

6 December 2023 – The consultation is closed and the responses collated

28 January 2024 – Government announce plans for more powers to introduce measures to tackle youth vaping, and a future consultation

29 January 2024 – Full consultation outcome is published, with responses from the public shared