A selection of colourful disposable vapes on display for sale in a souvenir shop in London, on Jan.uary 29, 2024. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The UK will introduce legislation to ban disposable vapes to protect children’s health amid a surge in use among the young.

“You talk to any parent or teacher, they will talk to you about the worrying rise in vaping amongst children,” , Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Monday told the media during a visit to a school in Darlington, northeast England.

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“It’s right we take strong action to stamp this out, banning disposable vapes, taking powers to go after the flavours, the appearance, the packaging, where vapes are displayed in stores,” he added.

“Children shouldn’t be vaping.”

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Pre-filled disposable e-cigarettes, known as “puffs”, are popular with young people, can have a high nicotine content, come in many flavours and are cheap.

Sunak’s government also plans to introduce fines for shops in England and Wales that sell vapes illegally to children.

Health experts welcomed the proposal, with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty saying the legislation would have “a major public health impact across many future generations”.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with students taking part in a personal development lesson as he visits Haughton Academy in Darlington, north east England, on January 29, 2024 to outline plans for the banning of single use vapes. Image Credit: AFP

Mike McKean, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, praised the move, which he called “bold action”.

“Banning disposables is a meaningful step in the right direction,” he added.

What are government plans?

Sunak last year announced plans to eventually make the UK a smoke-free nation.

His proposals would make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products — effectively raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.

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Image Credit: AP

“I propose that in future, we raise the smoking age by one year every year. That means a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette, and that they and their generation can grow up smoke-free,” Sunak told his Conservative party’s annual conference in October.

Sunak stopped short of pushing for a total ban on vapes, arguing it was important to keep them “for adult smokers who want to stop”.

However, some Tories are pushing back against his bid to phase out smoking, including former prime minister Liz Truss.

She tweeted that the government “should abandon its profoundly unconservative plans for the ban on tobacco sales,” calling it an extension of the “nanny state”.

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are devices that heat and aerosolise mixtures of nicotine, flavourings, and other ingredients. Inhalation of e-cigarette vapour is known as “vaping.”

E-cigarettes were initially intended to help people stop smoking traditional cigarettes, but the introduction of flavoured e-cigarettes has led to the expanded use of these products by adolescents.

Image Credit: Reuters

Over the last decade, favoured e-cigarettes have become very popular among young people, even though e-cigarette sales are supposed to be limited to those at least 21 years of age.

A 2021 study found that e-cigarettes were the most used tobacco product among middle- and high-school students in the US. Since the adolescent brain is still growing and is quite sensitive to the pleasant effects of sweet-tasting items, the use of flavoured e-cigarettes might result in increased dependence on these products in adolescents, as well as nicotine addiction.

What about disposable e-cigarettes?

Unlike cartridge-based products, disposable vapes are not meant to be refilled. They are battery-powered and do not require external charging.

Many disposable e-cigarettes are brightly coloured and feature flavours (including cotton candy, watermelon, and sour gummy) that are appealing to children and adolescents.

These products are currently legal and can be purchased online as well as at tobacco retailers and are now increasingly popular among adolescents. There are many videos on TikTok that feature the use of disposable e-cigarettes; some of those videos have had millions of views.

Although disposable e-cigarettes are not meant to be refilled and have finite battery lives, there are multiple websites and social media posts that provide detailed instructions for refilling and recharging them.

Because these products can be manipulated, opened, and refilled, the potential for exposure to liquid nicotine remains a concern. Some disposable e-cigarettes contain up to 7 per cent nicotine.

Swallowing the liquid contents of a disposable e-cigarette can be very dangerous, especially for young children. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, tremors, and heart palpitations. In severe cases, seizures and death can occur.

How bad is the situation in UK and how does it affect environment?

The government cited recent figures showing the proportion of vapers under the age of 18 who use disposables has increased almost ninefold in the last two years. Disposable vapes have driven the increase.

Sunak’s government also plans to introduce fines for shops in England and Wales that sell vapes illegally to children.

Disposable vapes are environmentally damaging. Five million are thrown away each week, a number that is “equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles.”

Vaping alternatives - such as nicotine pouches - will also be banned for children.

How about tobacco?

Smoking responsible for one hospital admission every minute in the UK

At present, the purchase age for tobacco products in England and Wales is 18.

Sunak plans to outlaw anyone born on or after Jan 1 2009 from buying tobacco, in a bid to create a “smoke free generation.”

Will there be any fines?

The new law will also ban flavours that are marketed at children and force manufacturers to use plainer packaging.

Shops will have to move vapes out of sight of children.

Any retailer selling tobacco or vapes to underage customers faces “on the spot” fines of up to £2,500 under the legislation.

In a preemptive strike against potential smugglers, £30 million of new funding a year will be provided to bolster enforcement agencies, including the UK Border Force.

How other countries are dealing with the issue ?

The Welsh and Scottish governments will join England in introducing the ban. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting since the collapse of power sharing two years ago.

The UK announcement follows the French parliament’s unanimous vote in December to ban single-use e-cigarettes, although the law still needs backing from France’s upper house Senate and clearance from the EU Commission.

Germany has also signalled an intent to take action while Belgium is awaiting the EU’s approval for a ban.

The sale of all vapes is currently banned in over 30 countries, with 79 other countries regulating them through legislation, while 84 countries have no bans or regulations in place, according to the World Health Organization.