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Vaping restrictions must not stop us from saving lives

Concerns are growing over a rise in young people experimenting with vaping and the environmental impact of disposable vapes. However, tighter restrictions on vaping could have unintended consequences.

We look at why we need to make sure vaping continues to play a vital role in helping people quit smoking for good.

Young male using a stop-smoking aid

Tobacco smoking causes over 4,500 cases of cancer in Yorkshire every year, having a devastating impact on families across our region.

The Government has set an ambitious target for the UK to go ‘smokefree’ by 2030. We believe that vaping has an important role to play in helping people stop smoking, in Yorkshire and the rest of the country.

Vaping allows the inhalation of nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes, through vapour rather than smoke. Vaping products do not burn tobacco, making them significantly less harmful to health.

4,500 cases of cancer

are caused by tobacco smoking every year in Yorkshire

4,600 quitters

There are an estimated 4,600 additional quitters each year in Yorkshire because of stop-smoking aids

Vapes are already one of the most popular stop-smoking aids, and there are an estimated 4,600 additional quitters each year in Yorkshire because of them.

A Yorkshire Cancer Research funded programme in Kirklees, which offered vaping kits alongside behavioural support to people who smoke, found that people who used a vaping product were 30% more likely to quit smoking at four weeks when compared to people using other forms of nicotine replacement.

However, vaping has a negative reputation. The concerns about the rise of vaping among young people, and the environmental impact of disposable vapes, are leading to calls for blanket bans on some products.

It's important that these issues are addressed, but any measures to curb vaping need to be implemented cautiously. Vaping has the potential to help thousands of people in our region quit smoking – and save lives. New restrictions on vaping must not become a barrier to helping people quit smoking.

Rates of youth vaping

According to findings published in May 2023 by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 7.6% of youths (11–17-year-olds) in Great Britain currently vape. The definition of young people who ‘currently vape’ include those who vape irregularly but have tried it more than once or twice, and those who vape every week.

This is higher than the proportion of young people currently smoking cigarettes (3.6%), which has been decreasing over the past few years (down from 4.8% in 2022).

However, the percentage of young people who have experimented with vaping once or twice is up from 8% to 12% since last year. Overall, a fifth of young people have tried vaping but within this group nearly half have never smoked a tobacco cigarette before.

Compared to adults, young people who vape are significantly more likely to use disposable vaping products. Disposable vapes are designed to be thrown away after the battery runs out, rather than recharged and reused.

In 2021 only 8% of young people chose this type of product but huge increases in popularity, due to their increased availability and low price, mean that now 69% of young people who vape use these types of devices.

A man holds a vape device whilst relaxing with friends

Why is youth vaping a problem?

Although vaping is significantly less harmful to health than tobacco smoking, it is not completely risk-free. So we don’t want anyone, including young people, to start vaping if they do not smoke.

Right now, vapes are widely sold in corner shops and supermarkets, with brightly coloured packaging and sweet flavourings, making them appealing and readily available to young people. Data from public health charity ASH, released earlier this year, shows that nearly three quarters of young people who currently vape have no problem buying the products themselves, most commonly from a corner shop. Young people also report accessing vapes via social media, or even being given free samples.

However, it is illegal for people under the age of 18 to buy vaping products, and it is also illegal for adults to buy them on behalf of someone under the age of 18 - so more must be done to stop this.

The government recently announced it would act to close a loophole in the regulations that allows companies to give free vaping products to children, and said it would also look at stopping the sale of nicotine-free vaping products to people under the age of 18, which is currently legal.

In addition, in recent years it has become increasingly common for disposable vaping products to reach the market that do not meet UK regulations and are therefore illegal. This may be in terms of the amount of e-liquid and nicotine they contain, or the amount of harmful chemicals they contain such as lead and nickel.

The government has allocated £3 million in funding to help tackle the sale of these illegal vapes in England, but this is a problem that also needs tackling by the regulators to ensure these products do not reach shelves.

Stop smoking device being held in hand Two vaping devices being held in hand

The environmental impact of disposable vapes

The rapid growth in the popularity of disposable vaping products means it has quickly become increasingly important to ensure they are disposed of correctly. However, disposable vapes are difficult to dismantle and can only be recycled by returning them to where they were bought.

As a result, only 30% of disposable vapes are currently recycled, and as many as 68 million disposable vapes containing plastic and valuable metal end up in landfill or are incinerated every year, equivalent in weight to 169 double-decker buses.

In addition, many vapes end up littering our streets and public spaces, although it’s worth noting that the environmental impact of tobacco products is currently much worse, making up 68% of all litter in Britain each year.

To help tackle concerns about the environmental impact of vaping, blanket bans on disposable vaping products are being considered. The supermarket Waitrose announced in late 2022 that they would stop selling disposable vaping products, citing health and environmental reasons. And a ban in Scotland is currently being considered by the Scottish Government.

Disposable vapes aren’t the real problem

However, while blanket bans may reduce the environmental impact and prevalence of youth vaping, they may also have unintended negative consequences.

Disposable vapes can be more accessible to certain groups of people, helping to ensure that everyone has access to vaping as a stop smoking aid.

Because they are cheap, disposable vaping products are useful for people on low incomes, or homeless people who can’t often recharge standard vaping pens. In addition, because disposable vapes are more difficult to dismantle or tamper with, they are useful stop-smoking aids in institutions such as prisons and inpatient mental health services.

Bans on disposable products have good intentions, but they risk drawing the focus away from the real problem: vaping is currently marketed as a lifestyle product, when it should be promoted, regulated and funded as a stop-smoking aid.

Banning disposable vapes is not the answer. It risks other products filling the market without getting to the core of the problem. If bans are introduced, there should be exceptions for vapes being used as a stop-smoking aid.

The action we want to see

At Yorkshire Cancer Research, we want to ensure that everyone has access to advice and products that can help them quit smoking for good. Vaping products should be a part of this.

We want:

  1. Increased investment in stop-smoking services to ensure that behavioural support to stop smoking is offered alongside vaping starter packs.
  2. A comprehensive public health campaign to dispel myths around vaping and provide reliable information for people who want to use them to stop smoking.
  3. Vaping products to be less accessible to non-smokers, including a ‘Challenge 25’ approach to the sale of all tobacco and vaping products (like alcohol), placing vaping products ‘behind the counter’, and introducing a licensing system for retailers who sell vaping products.
  4. The minimum age of sale for all vaping-related products increased to 18, including those that do not contain nicotine, and the free distribution of all vaping products to people of all ages prohibited, except where this is done as a stop smoking tool.
  5. The advertising and branding of vaping products to be regulated as soon as possible – including closing loopholes of advertising on social media, banning sponsorship in sports, and the regulation of packaging and labelling.
  6. Vaping products to be labelled as stop-smoking devices, with a prominent and mandatory statement to that effect included on the packaging, with restrictions that prevent this being lifted.

There are legitimate concerns around vaping which should be addressed. But vaping products have the potential to help thousands of people in Yorkshire stop smoking for good and reduce their risk of cancer. We must not let restrictions on vaping stop us saving lives.

Learn more about a new trial in Calderdale – funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research – offering vaping starter kits to smokers to help them quit for good.

Find out more