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UK to ban disposable vapes in bid to protect children’s health

UK to ban disposable vapes in bid to protect children’s health
Disposable vaping devices are seen for sale in a shop on 30 May 2023 in Manchester, England. The British prime minister has tried to cast a harsh light on "unacceptable" marketing of vaping products to teenagers and children, saying his government would close a loophole that allows retailers to give free vape samples to children. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Disposable vapes are to be banned in the UK to protect children’s health amid a surge in use among the young. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will unveil the legislation on Monday. The new powers will also ban flavours marketed at children and force manufacturers to use plainer packaging.

Shops will have to move vapes out of sight of children. Any retailer selling tobacco or vapes to underage customers faces “on the spot” fines of up to £2,500 under the legislation. Vaping alternatives —such as nicotine pouches — will also be banned for children.

The measures are part of the government’s response to its consultation on smoking and vaping, launched in October last year. Sunak plans to outlaw anyone born on or after 1 Jan 2009 from buying tobacco, in a bid to create a “smoke free generation”.

“The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable,” the prime minister said.

The measures drew an immediate backlash from both the industry and the right of the Conservative party. Liz Truss, the former prime minister, said Sunak’s plan was an anti-Conservative extension of the “nanny state”. 

“Adults must be able to make their own choices,” Truss said. “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 birth date.”

The UK Vaping Industry Association said it was “dismayed” by the decision. Vapes “have been instrumental in bringing the UK’s smoking rates down to a record low and have played a key role in helping millions of adults quit and stay off cigarettes.”

“This counterproductive legislation will sooner put children at greater risk by turbo-charging the black market and, in turn, making it easier for them to access illicit and non-compliant vapes.”

The government pointed to data showing that the number of children vaping in the last three years has tripled, with 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds now using the devices. Disposable vapes have driven the increase. The proportion of 11 to 17-year-old vapers using disposables increased almost ninefold in the last two years, it said.

Read more: Scotland Considers Banning Single-Use Vapes Amid Crackdown

It added that disposable vapes are environmentally damaging. Five million are thrown away each week, a number that it says is “equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles”.

The Welsh and Scottish governments will join England in introducing the ban. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting since the collapse of power sharing two years ago.

In a preemptive strike against potential smugglers, £30-million of new funding a year will be provided to bolster enforcement agencies, including the UK Border Force. 

Health professionals welcomed the move. “Bold action was always needed to curb youth vaping and banning disposables is a meaningful step in the right direction,” said Mike McKean, vice president for policy at The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. 

“I’m also extremely pleased to see further much needed restrictions on flavours, packaging, and marketing of vapes.”

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