Disposable vapes banned to protect children's health

29 January 2024

Disposable vapes will be banned in the UK as part of ambitious government plans to tackle the rise in youth vaping and protect children’s health, the prime minister announced on January 29, 2024, on a visit to a school.  

The measure is part of the government’s response to its consultation on smoking and vaping, launched in October 2023.  

Recent figures show the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Use among younger children is also rising, with nine per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds now using vapes. The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown, and the nicotine contained within them can be highly addictive, with withdrawal sometimes causing anxiety, trouble concentrating and headaches. While vaping can play a role in helping adult smokers to quit, children should never vape. 

Disposable vapes have been a key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping, with the proportion of 11 to 17-year-old vapers using disposables increasing almost ninefold in the last two years.    

As part of the package, new powers will be introduced to restrict flavours which are specifically marketed to children and ensure that manufacturers produce plainer, less visually appealing packaging. The powers will also allow the government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, like sweets.  

To crack down on underage sales, the government will also bring in new fines for shops in England and Wales which sell vapes illegally to children. Trading standards officers will be empowered to act ‘on the spot’ to tackle underage tobacco and vape sales. This builds on a maximum £2,500 fine that local authorities can already impose. 

Vaping alternatives – such as nicotine pouches – will also be outlawed for children who are increasingly turning to these highly addictive substitutes. 

The government reiterated its commitment to bring about the first ‘smokefree generation’ and introduce legislation so children turning fifteen this year or younger can never legally be sold tobacco.  

Smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer – causing around one in four cancer deaths and leading to 80,000 deaths per year – so stopping young people from ever starting to smoke will protect an entire generation and future generations from smoking harms as they grow up.  

To help ensure the success of the smokefree generation plan, £30m of funding a year will be provided to bolster enforcement agencies – including Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards – to implement these measures and stamp out opportunities for criminals.  

Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, said, “As any parent or teacher knows, one of the most worrying trends at the moment is the rise in vaping among children, and so we must act before it becomes endemic. 

“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.   

“As prime minister, I have an obligation to do what I think is the right thing for our country in the long term. That is why I am taking bold action to ban disposable vapes – which have driven the rise in youth vaping – and bring forward new powers to restrict vape flavours, introduce plain packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops.   

“Alongside our commitment to stop children who turn 15 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, these changes will leave a lasting legacy by protecting our children’s health for the long term.”

There was overwhelming support among responses to the government’s consultation for a disposable vape ban, with nearly 70 per cent of parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and the general public supportive of the measure.  

The government has a duty to protect children’s health, which is why it is taking bold and decisive action on smoking and vaping. This is the responsible thing to do to protect children for generations to come.  

Victoria Atkins, the health and social care secretary, said, “Smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of death in England. Almost every minute of every day someone is admitted to hospital with a smoking-related disease. And its costs society £17bn each year – putting a huge burden on our NHS.  

“That’s why we are driving the way forward through our smokefree generation plan, which will prevent our children from starting this dangerous habit.  

“The health advice is clear, vapes should only ever be used as a tool to quit smoking. But we are committed to doing more to protect our children from illicit underage vaping, and by banning disposable vapes we’re preventing children from becoming hooked for life.”

Vapes should only be used by adults as a tool to quit smoking. They contribute to an extra 50,000-70,000 smoking quits a year in England. 

As part of the government’s Swap to Stop scheme, almost one in five of all adult smokers in England will have access to a vape kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit and improve health outcomes.  

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer,  said, “Smoking damages and cuts short lives in extraordinary numbers.  

“Stillbirths, cancer, asthma, dementia, stroke and heart failure – smoking causes disability and death throughout the life course. If passed, this legislation would have a major public health impact across many future generations.”

Andrea Leadsom, a health minister, said, “We are in the midst of a worrying rise in young people vaping. I want to stop youth vaping in its tracks – and a ban on disposable vapes is central to that. 

“Nicotine is highly addictive – and so it is completely unacceptable that children are getting their hands on these products, many of which are undeniably designed to appeal to young people. 

“Along with tougher enforcement measures, we are making sure vapes are aimed at the people they were designed to help – adults who are quitting smoking.”

As well as benefitting children’s health, the ban will positively impact the environment. Five million disposable vapes are thrown away weekly, up from 1.3m last year. Over a year, this is equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles.   

The 10-week public consultation on ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping’, closed on December 6, 2023. Over 25,000 responses were analysed, and the government response sets out plans for upcoming legislation, which will be introduced in Parliament shortly.  

Creating a ‘smokefree generation’ goes beyond the harm to public health. The trade-in illicit cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco, and other tobacco products have far-reaching implications. HMRC estimates that the illicit tobacco trade costs the UK economy around £2.8bn billion a year in lost revenue.  

HMRC and Border Force will publish a new Illicit Tobacco Strategy, ‘Stubbing Out the Problem’, which:   

  • Sets out their continued commitment to reduce the trade in illicit tobacco, with a focus on reducing demand, and to tackle and disrupt organised crime behind the illicit tobacco trade 
  • Highlights the cost to the UK in lost tax revenue and the burden to taxpayers, the undercutting of law-abiding businesses, and the funding of wider organised crime through illicit tobacco sales.