Youth vaping epidemic: Paediatricians urge UK ban on disposable e-cigarettes

Youth vaping has been described as “fast becoming an epidemic among children” by paediatricians, who are urging the government to ban disposable e-cigarettes. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) voiced its concerns in response to the government consultation on e-cigarettes, stating that they “are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes.” The RCPCH has called for immediate action to protect young people, emphasising the need for long-term data on the effects of vaping, particularly in relation to cardiovascular disease.

The RCPCH pointed out that e-cigarettes have only been available in the UK since 2007, and as a result, long-term studies do not yet exist. Furthermore, there is even less evidence on the long-term impact of these products on children’s lungs, hearts, and brains. The organisation warned against waiting decades for longer-term studies, as was the case with traditional cigarettes, stating that children’s health cannot be put at risk.

In May, data from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed a 50% increase in the proportion of children trying vaping in Great Britain over the past year. The data showed a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7% last year to 11.6% this year. The percentage of children who had tried vaping once or twice roughly doubled in nine years, from 5.6% in 2014 to 11.6%. Disposable e-cigarettes appear to be the preferred choice among young people, with most purchases made at corner shops.

In 2021, only 7.7% of current child vapers used disposable e-cigarettes, but in 2022, this figure rose to 52%, and the trend continued to increase to 69% in 2023.

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In its submission, the RCPCH also highlighted the “serious environmental impact of disposable e-cigarettes,” which should not be ignored. Dr Mike McKean, the RCPCH’s vice president for policy and paediatric respiratory consultant, stated: “Without a doubt, disposable e-cigarettes should be banned.” He added that there is no reason for these cheap, readily available, brightly coloured, recreational products to be single-use. Dr McKean expressed concerns that if action is not taken, the UK could find itself “sleepwalking into a crisis.”

ASH has outlined “four high-impact interventions” that it believes the government must urgently implement. These include: a £5 specific tax on disposable e-cigarettes, prohibiting branding that appeals to children, reinstating funding for sustained anti-smoking campaigns promoting vaping as the most effective quitting aid for adult smokers, and banning in-store promotion of e-cigarettes, with exemptions for age-restricted, specialist vape shops.

This comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new government crackdown on vape marketing to prevent the “unacceptable” targeting of children and young people. The government has also pledged to close a loophole that allows retailers to give free samples of e-cigarettes to children in England.

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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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