Vaping Under Threat

It won’t have escaped anybody’s notice, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a range of measures to curb teen vaping this week, including a complete ban on disposable vapes, cutting back e-liquid flavours to mint, menthol, tobacco and “fruit”, making vape products have plain packaging, and hiding vapes away from sight in stores. In this comprehensive article, we look at the reasoning for the proposals and what the industry and experts think about it.

“Disposable vapes have been a key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping,” Rishi Sunak said when announcing a complete ban on the sale and importation of single-use ecigs.
“As part of today’s package,” he continued, “new powers will be introduced to restrict flavours which are specifically marketed at children and ensure that manufacturers produce plainer, less visually appealing packaging. The powers will also allow government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them like sweets.”

Who supports the ban?
The Local Government Association, twenty-two councils in England, all bar three councils in Scotland, the Scottish National Party, the Welsh government and four councils in Northern Ireland are the main protagonists behind the ban.
Unsurprisingly, very few public health bodies have joined in with the call. Only the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health called for an outright ban in England, while Public Health Scotland and Public Health Wales both want their governments to enact a ban.

Why do so few public health bodies support a ban on disposable vapes?
It is highly likely that, as they have developed their understanding over ten years based in comprehensive research evidence, they have seen the benefits to smokers of having disposable products on the market.
In fact, the NHS has taken part in a number of studies where disposables were given away to smokers to see if they helped them to quit tobacco use.

Does anyone else support the ban?
With disposables posing a clear problem to the environment, it will surprise no one to discover that a lot of environmental groups wanted to see a ban.
The Waste & Resources Action Programme, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, the North London Waste Authority, the RSPCA, the Wildlife and Countryside Link, the Marine Conservation Charity, the Green Alliance and Greenpeace all support it due to plastic pollution, the waste of lithium, and fires caused in lorries and refuse centres.

What are the arguments to support a ban?
Well, the Local Government Association says that a ban was “crucial” because Europe is banning disposable vapes in 2026. It says that if the UK didn’t ban disposables then all of the products that would have gone to the EU would come here. To be honest, it’s not the most logical of arguments.
There has been a rise in the number of vape-related bin lorry fires – 62% – that is indisputable, but the Local Government Association also says there has been a 108% increase in house fires caused by vapes. This second point ignores that there were very few fires to begin with and so 108% sounds a lot but means little.

Lastly, like Rishi Sunak and the Department of Health are claiming, a ban is concerned with teen vaping.

Well, as the New Nicotine Alliance put it: “There are justified concerns about youth vaping, but surveys 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.”

How successful have bans in other countries been?
Almost without exception, bans elsewhere have failed and continue to do so. The Local Government Association argues that there is no evidence to support the idea that a ban on disposable ecigs will increase illicit black market activity – but that doesn’t reflect the true experience.
Australia banned disposables, but it has had a de facto ban on vaping for years. During this period, people quitting smoking has stalled and the country has fallen behind the UK. Also, it has been widely accepted that a black market in illicit products has boomed – all of them disposables from China.

Thailand has a complete ban on vaping; you can buy and use cigarettes or cannabis, but the import, sale or use of a vape is punishable with a fine or prison. That said, it is impossible to walk down a city centre street without seeing people vaping and being offered large capacity, long lasting, rechargeable disposable vapes.

Rechargeable disposables?
Oh yes. One of the things the industry was calling for the UK government to allow – meaning that the disposables environmental footprint was drastically reduced and, combined with a trade initiative to recycle, would have addressed the issues held by people concerned about environmental sustainability.

Could disposable vapes ever be environmentally friendly?

Three single-use ecig products were launched during 2023 from independent companies. One was made using reclaimed materials meaning that it had a small environmental footprint, one had a modular design and biodegradable plastic to ensure an easy 100% recycling potential, and one did away with plastic and used cardboard to make it easy to remove the battery and render it biodegradable.
Also, national collection schemes were just being rolled out across retail chains and some companies were offering a freepost ‘return to manufacturer’ option that rewarded customers taking part with a free vape.
So, there were alternatives. Options had been put to Conservative government ministers.

Will the disposable vape ban succeed?
It’s a good time to defer to the Local Government Association, main proponents of banning disposables, when it said: “We accept the prohibition of goods is unlikely to solve the problem”.
The Association says the ban won’t push ex-smokers / vapers back to smoking as alternatives exist. The concern for tobacco harm reduction advocates is that the ban will simply serve to confirm to current smokers that there is a ‘problem’ with vaping, that it might be as dangerous as smoking, so why switch?
Current levels of misunderstanding are already at record levels (as we covered in last week’s article), anything that suggests ‘vape bad’ is only going to serve to entrench negative opinions.
When the Local Government Association first called for a complete ban, anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health said that while it was “sympathetic”, “the risk of unintended consequences is too great for us to support a ban”.
Action on Smoking and Health (who are experts on health matters, unlike the Local Government Association) pointed out that banning the sale of legal products because children buy illegal products that are already banned from sale will not stop the people “have no qualms selling to children” from continuing to do so.
The charity added: “The sale of illegal disposable vapes, already large and growing, will be turbo-charged if they are banned. Illegal vapes go under the regulatory radar, they’ve been found to contain all sorts of toxic chemicals banned in legal products, and there’s no way to ensure they’re properly recycled.”
Action on Smoking and Health’s solution was to put a tax only on disposable vapes and use that money to crack down on people selling illegal vapes to children.
Research conducted by the vaping industry
The trade body to which Vapekit belongs, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), conducted research asking 2,000 adults what they would do if disposables were banned and flavours limited.
The IBVTA found: “38% of regular smokers and recent ex-smokers that have used vaping to reduce or fully quit smoking would either smoke more cigarettes, switch back to smoking or purchase illegal vapes. This equates to more than 1 million adult smokers and recent ex-smokers (quit less than 5 years ago).”
The trade body also said: “IBVTA member commissioned research by Opinium of 6,000 UK adults in November 2023 revealed that 59% of adult vapers believe that having a range of flavours helps them to reduce their smoking or from going back to smoking.
“IBVTA member commissioned research by Opinium of 6,000 UK adults in August 2023 showed that 72% of ex-smokers (who quit in the past 5 years) and 56% of smokers believe single-use devices are helpful in assisting individuals to reduce their smoking levels.”
Will the Bill to ban disposables and flavours be passed and when will it come into force?
Well, right-wing politicians have already stated that they will oppose the Bill when it is presented to the House of Commons. Ex-PM Liz Truss called it a “profoundly unconservative policy”.
She told The Times: “While the state has a duty to protect children from harm, in a free society, adults must be able to make their own choices about their own lives. Banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born in 2009 or later will create an absurd situation where adults enjoy different rights based on their birthdate. A Conservative government should not be seeking to extend the nanny state. This will only give succour to those who wish to ban further choices of which they don’t approve.”
A columnist for the Financial Times has said the Bill will pass “despite rightwing rebellion”.
Experts predict that if it does pass, it won’t come into force until December 2024 at the earliest.