What Can We Do To Save Disposable Vapes?

Opinon – Vape Club
With disposable vapes hitting the front pages of newspapers across the country and questions being asked about their safety, environmental impact, and even whether or not they should even be sold in the UK; retailers and vapers alike have been left scratching their heads.

Vape Club wanted to set the record straight and offer some ideas that could easily help limit the main problems associated with disposable vapes.

The UK retailer, established in 2012, has seen the industry grow and evolve with the needs of consumers, and in their opinion piece: How To Fix The Disposable Vape Problems With Some Simple Regulation Changes, they’ve addressed why disposables are still an important tool for adult smokers, the impact prohibition will have on the already-growing black market, and how a re-design could limit environmental impact and help stop them getting into the hands of under-18s.

On March 24th, Dr. Caroline Johnson will be reading a proposed bill that aims to ban disposable vapes altogether, citing risks to the environment and the health of children. In what could be regarded as a rather callous statement, the MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham proposed that “The best option is neither to vape nor to smoke.”

This is all well and good but it ignores the realities faced by adult smokers across the nation.

Why Disposable Vapes Need To Stay
As it stands, disposable vapes offer an alternative to smoking that doesn’t suffer from the same “technical barrier” as traditional vape kits.

Vape Club and other retailers have been quick to point out that a study in 2017 got to the heart of the matter. ‘Why Don’t More Smokers Switch To Using E-Cigarettes’ found that the complexity of the products available put vapes at a disadvantage to cigarettes.

There is no learning curve with disposable vapes and they allow the smoker to focus on their switching journey, rather than worrying about how to change coils or top up a kit with e-liquid.

And the numbers don’t lie, the 2022 ASH figures calculate that 15.2% of the current 4.3 million adult vapers use disposable vapes, that’s somewhere in the region of 653,000 vapers who would be left out in the cold if Dr. Johnson gets her way.

This data was collated and reported in March of 2022, a year later, that number could be well over a million people.

Disposable vapes also play a vital role for smokers who suffer from dexterity issues or suffer from certain ailments.

For example, smokers affected by arthritis, ataxia, or Parkinson’s disease can often struggle with refillable or pod-based systems, and disposable vapes provide a simple and effective solution. A ban would create a health inequality that could be easily avoided.

Disposable vapes also play a vital role for smokers who suffer from dexterity issues or suffer from certain ailments.

For example, smokers affected by arthritis, ataxia, or Parkinson’s disease can often struggle with refillable or pod-based systems, and disposable vapes provide a simple and effective solution. A ban would create a health inequality that could be easily avoided.

2) The rise in youth access
Disposable vapes are of course quite inexpensive as a one-off purchase, with most products costing between £4-6.

This of course puts them very much within the financial means of a teenager.

Although the issue with youth access is not the products themselves but the rogue traders who flout the law and sell them to children, with the almost non-existent enforcement of the regulations by local authorities up and down the country, maybe there are other tactics that could help to reduce youth access.

And we believe there are. It may seem controversial at first, but we have a suggestion…

Raise E-liquid Capacity For Disposable Vapes Significantly…we told you it was controversial, but hear us out.

Currently, the UK regulations limit eliquid capacity to 2ml, but raising this to a minimum of say 10ml could have a huge positive impact. And with a disposable being a sealed unit there is no danger of a child or pet accidentally drinking the eliquid.

There are already similar products that exist in other markets around the world – known as ‘rechargeable disposables’. They have a 10ml tank for e-liquid and a charging port for the battery.

This means the same size battery used in a 2ml disposable can still power the bigger device, but, instead of being used once, it is recharged 5 times. This can reduce battery waste by 80% overnight, and have a significant impact on waste plastic (1 x 10ml device will not use anywhere near the level of materials needed for 5 x 2ml devices).

The regulations would likely need to stipulate a maximum battery size (e.g. 500mAh) to prevent manufacturers from simply using a much bigger battery, but it buys a lot of time.

It gives the waste and recycling industries time to catch up, get their facilities off the ground, and actually provide a real recycling service here in the UK.

And then there is the impact on youth access. These larger devices will be far more expensive, and could easily sit at around £14-16 per disposable – and thus have the same effect that removing 10 packs of cigarettes had in reducing youth access to cigarettes. We can basically price them out.

This is of course no substitute for enforcing the age of sale regulations, but that is a whole separate discussion and we’ll share some views on how to achieve this later.

But for now, we have at least got a chance to reduce the impact of the problems, and
although we understand our suggestions are going to be viewed as contentious – particularly coming from a vape company (and if you read the press that basically makes us the devil), we actually care deeply about these issues, and we also care deeply for the adult ex-smokers who are using disposables to stay away from combustible tobacco.

Can We Stop Black Market Vapes?
Aside from changing the design of disposables, Vape Club has rightly pointed out that more needs to be done to tackle rogue traders selling illegal vapes and selling them to minors.

The most effective solution would be to launch a form of licensing scheme, similar to the one for alcohol, and use the fees from this to fund a national test purchasing scheme.

In this scenario, shops would be randomly visited 2 or 3 times a year, where mystery (underage) shoppers will attempt to make a purchase, and the store can be inspected for illegal products at the same time.

The punishment for offenders needs to be severe and act as a real deterrent – for example, fines starting at £10,000 for the business, and a personal fine for the employee.

A simple ban on disposable vapes wouldn’t have the same effect and would in fact push them underground. This, in turn, makes them a more attractive proposition for organised crime.

There’s already a thriving black market for vapes in the UK. We’ve seen the problems that Trading Standards and the police have trying to tackle the issue when it’s in plain view on high streets up and down the country.

Imagine how much more difficult that would be when these products get pushed further underground. It should come as no surprise either that anyone willing to sell illegal vapes would likely have no hesitation selling them to children either.

A move towards larger capacity disposables will take away the demand for illegal ones and stop criminals in their tracks, while at the same time effectively ‘pricing out’ under-18s.

The reason these illegal high-capacity devices are so popular is that consumers want them.

They don’t want to have to constantly dispose of devices and buy multiples of the same device all the time. If they go through the same regulatory process as other vapes and stick to the caps on nicotine strength, why shouldn’t they be allowed?

In terms of their effect on the body, there’s no difference between one 10ml disposable vape and five 2ml vapes.

As long as they adhere to the same stringent testing standards demanded by UK law, there’s no reason that these products couldn’t be considered safe for consumers.

Even the MHRA has come out and said that the recent issue with 3.2ml Elf Bars and Lost Mary vapes isn’t a safety concern, these overfilled vapes present a regulatory issue. This is why no product recall has taken place.

Final Thoughts
It is Vape Club’s view that more needs to be done with disposable vapes. These products show a lot of promise, and with the right modifications to how they’re made and sold, they offer a real alternative to tobacco for hundreds of thousands of smokers in the UK alone.

Dr. Caroline Johnnson’s knee-jerk reaction will do nothing to change the prevalence of illegal vapes on the high street, it will just make it harder for adult smokers to make the switch – we need a full portfolio of options to ensure we have any chance of reaching the elusive ‘Smokefree 2030’ objective.