UK paediatricians demand ban on disposable vapes amid youth vaping surge

Paediatricians are urging a total ban on disposable e-cigarettes due to the potential harm they pose to young lungs and the environment. However, an anti-smoking advocacy group argues that such a ban would make quitting smoking more difficult for some adults and increase the illegal vape trade. UK governments are considering measures to reduce vaping among under-18s, including stricter regulations on the marketing and promotion of vaping products.

Although selling vapes or e-cigarettes to children is illegal, the number of 11 to 17-year-olds experimenting with vaping has risen from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023, according to a YouGov survey for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). The survey also revealed that about 15% of 16 to 17-year-olds and 18% of 18-year-olds are current vapers. Disposable nicotine vapes in bright colours and various flavours are the most popular product among teenagers, who typically purchase them from corner shops for around £5 each.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently criticised the design and promotion of vapes to appeal to children when they are intended for adults trying to quit smoking. A BBC investigation discovered unsafe levels of lead, nickel, and chromium in vapes confiscated from a secondary school, which could be inhaled into children’s lungs. Scientists who analysed the vapes stated that the lab test results were the worst of their kind they had ever seen.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) now asserts that the UK government should “without a doubt” ban disposable e-cigarettes. Dr Mike McKean, paediatric respiratory consultant and RCPCH vice-president, warned that “youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children, and I fear that if action is not taken, we will find ourselves sleepwalking into a crisis.”

Health experts emphasise that smoking cigarettes, which contain tobacco, remains the single largest cause of preventable illness and disease in the UK. However, Dr McKean noted that vaping products are “not risk-free” and research on them is “still very much in its infancy.” As a result, the long-term effects on young people’s lungs, hearts, and brains are unknown.

Last week, Sunak announced plans to close a loophole allowing vaping companies to give free samples to children in England and consider increasing fines for shops selling vapes illegally. A call for evidence on how to curb youth vaping ends on Tuesday.

In Scotland, the First Minister recently stated that a ban on disposable vapes was being considered in a report by an environmental expert group. The RCPCH is urging governments to decide whether to take further action “to prioritise our children and our planet.”

However, some argue that a ban on disposable vapes is unnecessary and would not achieve the desired outcome. Charity and campaign group ASH contends that a complete ban would boost the market for illegal vapes and make recycling them more difficult. They also claim that disposable vapes are a useful tool for adult smokers, particularly older individuals and those with learning disabilities, to quit tobacco.

Professor Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant in Gateshead who works with patients with respiratory failure, said, “We need to be really careful about banning them – vapes and e-cigarettes have been invaluable in stopping people smoking.” Although disposable vapes are just one type of vaping product, ASH estimates that they are used by 20% of vapers who have quit smoking.

Professor Nick Hopkinson, respiratory physician and chairman of ASH, highlighted that smoking remains “the biggest health problem for adults and children” and called for more funding for stop smoking services as well as stricter regulations on vaping. ASH is advocating for a £5 tax on disposable vapes, which would make them similarly priced to rechargeable, reusable vaping products but still cheaper than a pack of cigarettes. The group also wants tighter rules on how vapes are promoted in shops to reduce their appeal to children.

The independent think tank Green Alliance argued that disposable vapes waste resources like lithium needed for electric car batteries and that recycling them is expensive. The organisation described current government proposals to restrict marketing and end free giveaways to children as “laughably inadequate.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care in England stated, “We are taking bold action to crack down on youth vaping through the £3m illicit vapes enforcement squad to tackle underage sales to children.”

World News

Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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