Why does the UK want to ban disposable vapes and when will it happen?


Single-use vapes are set to be banned in the UK

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A ban on disposable vapes is expected to come in across the UK as part of a broader clampdown on underage use of e-cigarettes. Rechargeable vaping systems will have to be sold in plainer packaging, and there will also be shop display restrictions as well as higher fines for shops that break the law by selling to under-18s.

When will disposable vapes be banned?

The legislation will be debated before the next general election, which is likely to be this year, the health secretary Victoria Atkins told the BBC. The ban could then take effect in early 2025.

Why are disposable vapes being banned?

Vaping is thought to be much less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and so smokers are generally advised to switch to vaping if that is the only way they can stop smoking. But people are also advised not to take up vaping if they don’t already smoke, as vapes still contain nicotine, which is addictive, as well as low levels of other potentially harmful chemicals.

As vaping has taken off among adults, so has illicit use by under-18s, especially of disposable vapes, which are initially cheaper than the alternative of using a rechargeable vaping system. In the UK, 9 per cent of 11-to-15-year-olds are now using vapes. Manufacturers are accused of developing versions that appeal to children, with brightly coloured packaging and enticing flavours, including varieties named after fruits or sweet brands. The new legislation would also restrict flavours and mandate plain packaging for rechargeable vape systems.

What about the litter?

Single-use vapes have also come under fire because they are so often discarded as litter rather than being properly disposed of. They are difficult to recycle because they are part plastic, part copper and contain lithium batteries. In the UK, for instance, disposable vape litter has doubled in the past two years, according to surveys by the anti-littering charity Keep Britain Tidy.

Could there be downsides to a ban on disposables?

Single-use vapes are the easiest way for new starters to try out e-cigarettes, so this could mean some people stick with smoking who might otherwise have switched to vaping, says Clive Bates, former head of the UK anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). “Disposable vapes are the easiest way to not smoke,” he says. “They don’t require any upfront expenditure.”

There are also concerns that some people will turn to black-market disposable vapes instead, which may contain hazardous chemicals. A few years ago there was a rash of cases of lung injury in the US and Canada linked to illicit cannabis vapes containing an additive called vitamin E acetate, which is harmful to the lungs.

What are other countries doing?

A few other countries also have plans to ban single-use vapes, including Australia, France and Germany. In December 2023, New Zealand introduced strict new laws on disposable vapes, including limiting their nicotine content. In Australia, people may legally access nicotine-containing vapes only with a doctor’s prescription, but black market products are widely available in shops.

The UK plans to cut youth vaping will only work if the law is properly enforced, says Hazel Cheeseman at ASH. “If you don’t have the right level of resources to make sure that we are able to enforce this law, then that will be a problem,” she says.

Will the laws around smoking change?

England and Wales are also pressing ahead with plans to introduce an age-linked ban, making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009. The effect would be that those now 14 or younger would never be able to legally buy cigarettes.

Those in favour of such a ban say it would make teenagers less likely to start smoking, but on the other hand, it could eventually lead to the bizarre outcome of adults of different ages facing different sales restrictions. “The intention is great, but it leads to a slightly ridiculous situation where an adult will go into a shop to buy a cigarette pack of cigarettes for another adult who’s a year younger than him,” says Jacob George at the University of Dundee, UK.

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