Underage vaping to be targeted by UK ‘enforcement squad’

Sharp increase in children vaping prompts Trading Standards ‘flying squad’ to tackle underage sales
27 April 2023 , Steve Smethurst

Charities welcome government action but say disposable vapes also need to be taxed and sales outlets limited

Neil O’Brien, Minister for Primary Care in the Department of Health and Social Care has announced a new ‘enforcement squad’ to impose the rules on vaping and prevent underage sales. He also launched a call for evidence to identify opportunities to stop children vaping.

The minister said there was a need to step up efforts as there had been a ‘very sharp’ increase in children vaping – particularly disposable vapes.

He said: “NHS figures for 2021 showed that 9% of 11- to 15-year-old children used e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018. Whether it’s disposable vapes marketed with bright colours, or low prices, or cartoon characters or child-friendly flavours - or products being sold that don’t meet our rules on content.”

He said that a large rise in disposable products was also concerning. “In 2022, 52% of young people who vaped were using disposable products, compared with just 8% in 2021. More than 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away each week.”

The minister said the government will provide £3 million of new funding to create a specialised ‘flying squad’ led by Trading Standards to enforce the rules on vaping and tackle illicit vapes and underage sales.

O’Brien said: “This national programme will help share knowledge and intelligence across regional networks – including on organised crime gangs. It will also bolster training and enforcement capacity and undertake specific projects such as test purchasing in convenience stores and vape shops.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Ash, the charity set up by the Royal College of Physicians, said she welcomed the government announcement but that more action was needed to tackle youth vaping.

“Cheap disposable vapes need to be taxed so they can no longer be bought for pocket money prices. And the government needs to limit where these products can be sold.”

She said: “The call for evidence is all well and good, but we already know the problems and how to address them. Cheap disposable vapes need to be taxed so they can no longer be bought for pocket money prices. And the government needs to limit where these products can be sold, and prohibit brightly coloured packaging with cartoon characters.”

Sarah MacFadyen, Head of Policy and External Affairs at Asthma + Lung UK also welcomed the new measures to make it harder for children to buy disposable vapes, but said “making vaping more expensive would be a better deterrent”.

She also highlighted that “vaping alone can’t solve this country’s addiction to cigarettes. What smokers need is stop smoking services offering personalised support, funded properly through a tobacco industry levy, as recommended by Dr Javed Khan’s 2022 review.”

John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology, University of Nottingham was also sceptical about funding. He said: “Selling e-cigarettes to children is illegal and it is important that such sales are, where possible, stopped. So to the extent that this announcement leads to progress in this respect, it is welcome.

“It remains to be seen, however, whether this is new money; whether it will reach the front line services that need it; and how much of an effect it will have. It is also important that this initiative does not detract from the much greater problem of preventing illicit sales of tobacco.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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