Professor Sir Chris Whitty attacks 'appalling' marketing of vapes to children

Professor Whitty said: “I think we need to be much more serious, in my view, that trying everything we can to reduce vaping in children." Credit: PA

England’s chief medical officer has attacked the “appalling” marketing of vapes to children – saying it is clear some products are intended to appeal to underage kids.

England’s chief medical officer told the government more must be done to stop children smoking e-cigarettes, adding that marketing vapes to young teens is "utterly unacceptable".

Professor Whitty made the comments on Tuesday, in an address to MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

When asked by Dr Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, whether he thought vaping was "heavily marketed at children...developing a generation of teenagers completely addicted to sucking little nicotine coloured pop things," he agreed that action needed to be taken.

Research found the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many being influenced by social media sites including TikTok. Credit: PA

He said the marketing of vapes to youngsters was obviously “happening” and said “we should be much more serious” in doing “everything we can” to reduce vaping among children.

"I think everyone agrees that marketing vaping, an addictive product, with, as you imply, unknown consequences for developing minds, to children is utterly unacceptable," he added.

“There’s no doubt it’s happening because, although from a low base, the rates of vaping have doubled in the last couple of years among children.

"So that is an appalling situation."

He said: “Disposables vapes – things like Elf Bar – are clearly the kinds of products which look as if they’re being marketed, in reality, at children.

'I think we should look very seriously at these products for which the child market appears to be the principal market and say ‘why are we considering this to be a good thing to have?''

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A survey of children, carried out for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), found that, over the previous year, a new generation of disposable vapes known as “puff bars” – which contain nicotine – have come on to the market.

While it is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, social media carries posts from teenagers showing vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango.

The Ash poll found the proportion of children aged 11 to 17 currently vaping jumped from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

In 2013, just 3% of children aged 11 to 15 had ever vaped, but this rose to 8% in 2020 and 10% in 2022.

However Professor Whitty noted the benefits of vaping for those trying to quit smoking.

He said: "Everyone agrees, I think, that it is far safer for someone to vape than to smoke.

"So if the choice has to be between one of two of those – they’re smoking heavily now, they want to come off smoking, and they can move on to vaping, they can’t just completely stop, then that is a net benefit in health terms.

“And vaping has an important role as a public health tool to help smokers who are addicted to often no choice of their own at this stage to come off smoking."