Doctors call for ban on disposable vapes amid 'epidemic' among children

teenager vaping
Credit: PA

Paediatricians have warned “vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children” as they urge the government to ban disposable vapes.

In response to the Westminster's consultation on e-cigarettes, which closes on Tuesday, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) warned that e-cigarettes “are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes”.

It is calling for urgent action to protect children, saying experts agree that longer-term data is needed on the effects of vaping, particularly in regard to cardiovascular disease.

“However, since e-cigarettes have only been on sale in the UK since 2007, long-term studies don’t yet exist,” it said.

“We have even less evidence on the long-term impacts of these products on young lungs, hearts and brains.

“It took experts decades to fully understand the impact of traditional cigarettes, we cannot risk our children’s health in waiting this long again for longer-term studies.

”In May, data for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) showed there has been a 50% rise in the last year in Great Britain in the proportion of children trying vaping.

It found a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7% last year to 11.6% this year.

Children were asked if they had ever tried vaping once or twice, with the proportion roughly doubling in nine years, from 5.6% in 2014 to 11.6%.

Disposable vapes appear to be the e-cigarette of choice among youngsters, while purchases of vapes are mostly made from corner shops.

In 2021, current child vapers were least likely to vape disposables (7.7%) but in 2022 they became the most used (52%) and this has continued to grow to 69% in 2023.

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

In its submission, the RCPCH also said the “serious environmental impact of disposable e-cigarettes” must not be ignored.

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Its vice president for policy and paediatric respiratory consultant, Dr Mike McKean, said: “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.

“Westminster’s approach to this problem is out of step with even our closest neighbours, with countries such as Scotland, France, Germany, and Ireland all seriously considering a ban.

“The government in Westminster has the responsibility and capability to make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences, potentially for generations to come."

The vaping industry is worth £1bn

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said disposable vapes were “the last thing our children and the planet need”, adding: “They waste resources that are critical to the green transition – like lithium needed for the batteries that power electric cars."

Elsewhere, in its response to the consultation, ASH said there were “four high-impact interventions” that ministers must urgently bring in.

These include:

  • Put a specific tax on disposable vapes of £5

  • prohibit branding that would appeal to children

  • Reinstate funding for sustained anti-smoking campaigns promoting vaping as the most effective quitting aid available for adult smokers

  • Prohibit in-store promotion of e-cigarettes with exemptions for age-restricted, specialist vape shops.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said a new government crackdown on vape marketing will prevent the “unacceptable” targeting of children and young people, with a pledge to close a loophole allowing retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England.

The PM also used an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to express concern about his own daughters potentially being targeted by vape marketing.

The government has said that there will also be a review into banning retailers selling “nicotine-free” vapes to under-18s.