Could banning disposable vapes cause more harm than good?

Rishi is coming for your Elf Bar. But experts have warned the ban could cause an increase of smoking in young people.

At the end of last month, the government announced its ban on the sale of disposable, or single-use, vapes.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the move during a visit to a school, claiming that it would be necessary to stamp out” a rise in children vaping. He also pledged to strengthen restrictions” on refillable vapes – no more fancy flavours, no more bright packaging displayed in the open like pick n’ mix – and to make it easier for shopkeepers to be fined for any underage vape sales.

However, experts from Drug Science have warned whether the ban could actually cause an increase in smoking among young people. They pointed to their own research, which suggests that vaping is approximately 25 times less harmful than smoking”. They also warn of the dangers of a potential rise in the illicit vape market, with no quality control, as a potential result of the ban. If this happens, they argue, it could have disastrous consequences” and be a public health tragedy”.

I will probably get them from the black market, unless the markup is massive”


At this point, who could resist suckling the sweet nectar of a Lost Mary? Certainly not teenagers. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a public health charity set up by the Royal College of Physicians, In 2023, 20.5 per cent of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8 per cent in 2022 … The majority of children who vape (69 per cent) use disposable ones. Among 16 – 17 year-olds, 15 per cent are now vaping more than once a week.” ASH is in favour of the ban.

Ultimately, the move is to stop kids tumbling down the black hole of nicotine addiction. But history tells us that when something is banned it does not go away – it goes underground, onto the black market, where dealers have no legal quality control and don’t have to check anyone’s age. Criminal elements went on to control the nos trade, the mephedrone business, even the sale in menthol cigarettes after these substances were banned (in 2023, 2010 and 2020 respectively).

I will probably get them from the black market, unless the markup is massive,” a 27-year-old worker in the charity sector told me. If there is [a massive markup] and cigs are far cheaper and more accessible I’ll probably just smoke.” A smoker-turned-vaper, he is worried about quality control on the black market, but he also said he is excited for more reasonable’ levels of nicotine” in the vapes. He believes that the UK max levels are too low.

A 23-year-old social media editor I spoke to told me she smoked for four years and quit. To stop me smoking again, I started using the [disposable] vapes with zero nicotine so I could still have the feeling of smoking,” she explains. She will get them off the black market after the ban. I think there’ll be a lot of places where you can find them,” she says. Although I am scared that on the black market there will be poor quality vapes.”

I quite like [disposable vapes],” a 22-year-old working for a charity tells me. Before the vapes, he smoked roll-ups on and off for a couple of years. If they stop selling them in shops, I wouldn’t know where to buy them from. That being said, if someone was selling them illegally I’d probably cop one.”

We now throw away five million single-use vapes every week in the UK. That’s 260 million single-use vapes every year”

Getting hold of disposable vapes after the ban probably won’t be that difficult. After all, it’s easy enough to get hold of untaxed or counterfeit tobacco. We all know that slightly-shady shopkeeper who offers you the cheaper cigarettes when nobody else is in the shop.

Drug Science welcomes the government measures when it comes to getting rid of the bright packaging and how the single-use vapes are displayed in shops. But they believe that instead of an outright ban, the government should focus on longer-term solutions: educational messaging on the (very real) dangers of vaping, support for people who want to address their nicotine addiction, and recycling schemes. (According to Material Focus, a non-profit organisation that encourages people to recycle electrical goods, we now throw away five million single-use vapes every week in the UK. That’s 260 million single-use vapes every year – enough valuable lithium and copper to power nearly 5,000 electric vehicles”.)

The Tories, perhaps sensing that their days in power are numbered, don’t seem very interested in long term plans, though. The disposable vape is expected to be banned towards the end of this year or early 2025. We’ll see who goes first.

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