Why a ban on disposable vapes is a dangerous strategy, by Dr Marina Murphy

credit: willowsdentistry.co.uk

News reports suggest that disposable (or single-use) vapes could be outlawed in the UK as part of a government crackdown on youth vaping.

In April, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) put out ‘a call for evidence to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children assessing and using vape products, while ensuring they are still readily available as a quit aid for adult smokers’.

No child should have access to vape products and no child should be vaping. But as was rightly pointed out in the objectives of this consultation, the solution cannot and should not be to take these products out of the hands of the adults who need them.

According to OHID, e-cigarettes or vapes are the ‘most common’ aid used by people to quit smoking. The convenience and value for money of single-use vapes serve to encourage smokers who might otherwise not try vaping to give it a go! Indeed data published by Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH) show that 31% of the nation’s 4.7 million vapers use single-use products as their main device – that’s 1.5million vapers.
The result – smoking rates in the UK are at an all-time low!

The answer to stopping illegal vape sales to children is not bans or more regulation. We need to enforce the regulation that is already there and ensure that penalties for breaking the rules are severe enough to discourage anyone from ever selling to minors again. Trading Standards also needs much more support and resource in order to properly police those who would sell vapes to minors.

Prohibitive policies that would see single-use products removed from the market would not just restrict the choice of millions of adult smokers wanting to quit, it would drive sales underground, fuelling a black market of illegal and potentially dangerous unregulated products. All of which would have a serious negative impact on the nation’s economy.

The UK vape industry is currently a huge economic success. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research revealed that the UK sector had an aggregate turnover of £2.8bn and supported 18,000 full-time equivalent jobs in2021.
In Australia, which operates some of the most restrictive vape policies in the world, an estimated 92 percent of its 1.3 million vapers purchase their products through illegal channels, and it has been reported that 90-100 million illegal vapes are imported every year.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH issued this warning: ‘The government must act to address the rapid growth in youth vaping, but a ban on disposables is risky as, without far greater resources on enforcement, it could turn the flood of illegal vapes into a tsunami.’

Scott Butler, executive director of environmental charity Material Focus, also raised concerns that a ban on single-use vapes could give way to ‘hard to control illegal sales’. He added that there would be ‘no mechanism to deal with the operational challenges and costs of illegally sold vapes’ and ‘no way’ to encourage retailers to recycle them.
We must have a greater focus on enforcement, more support for Trading Standards and more impactful punitive action against those caught flouting the law – such as the £10,000 on-the-spot fines being called for by the UK Vaping Industry Association. While I welcome efforts from the government to address youth vaping, a ban on single-use vapes is not the answer. This consultation should instead be used to explore more balanced policy options that recognise the value of these convenient, easy-to-use, inexpensive products.

OHID is clear that vaping represents a fraction of the risk of smoking. Vaping is an important part of the UK’s public health policy and single-use vapes are an invaluable part of that toolkit.

Dr Marina Murphy

Dr Marina Murphy, Senior Director, Scientific and Medical Affairs, ANDS

Marina Murphy has more than 20 years’ experience across scientific research, communications, and engagement in science, tobacco harm reduction and nicotine. Marina is currently Senior Director, Scientific and Medical Affairs at ANDS and has previously held senior positions at JUUL labs and at British American Tobacco. Marina has a Ph.D. in chemistry from the National University of Ireland, Galway. She has been published across a range of scientific journals, including Drugs & Alcohol Today and Key Engineering Materials, as well as in the top-tier media outlets, including the BBC, New Scientist, sciencebusiness and The Irish Times. Marina takes great pride in having forged a unique career path that allows her to use a genuine passion for science to help make a real difference in people’s lives.