UK Government To Ban Single-Use Disposable Vapes

UK Government To Ban Single-Use Disposable Vapes
stop the flavour ban

UK Government To Ban Single-Use Disposable Vapes

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We need your help to fight the proposed ban on e-liquid flavours recently published by the UK government.

Please take just one minute to sign the petition on the UK Parliament website and help vaping remain a successful and healthier alternative to smoking tobacco.

Flavours are essential to providing better and safer alternatives to harmful combustible tobacco cigarettes. Public Health England state that vaping is 95% safer than smoking tobacco and vaping has helped people across the UK to successfully quit. Let’s keep it that way.

UK Government proposes new ban on single-use disposable vapes, flavours and packaging

UK Disposable Vape Ban: Will It Work?

The UK Government has proposed new legislation including a ban on single-use disposable vapes, suggesting that they are responsible for an ‘alarming rise in youth vaping.’ The announcement also announced “HMRC and Border Force’s new Illicit Tobacco Strategy ‘Stubbing Out the Problem,’ published online on Monday 29 January 2024, which can be found on the website. The proposed legislation was released alongside other measures including:

  • restricting certain vape flavours ‘aimed at children’
  • banning single-use disposable vapes
  • introducing plain packaging for vapes
  • changing how vapes are displayed in shops
  • banning alternative products such as nicotine pouches to minors

It goes without saying that Eco-Vape and the vast majority of the UK vaping industry commend the attempts at reducing access to nicotine products for under 18s. Furthermore, when it comes to single use disposables, Eco-Vape’s position is that it supports a ban on single-use disposable vapes, though primarily for environmental reasons due to the large amount of electrical and plastic waste they produce every year that ends up in landfill in in the context of alternative refillable devices that are now easily accessible and affordable.

However, since these products are already illegal to sell to minors, it is not clear how this new legislation will have any effect on preventing illegal sales and reducing access to children. Any new legislation must be met with better enforcement of existing regulations that allow local authorities to prevent illicit sales and punish rogue retailers who consistently break the law by selling nicotine products to minors.

As the Government is already failing to enforce the current laws which already prohibit the sale of vapes to minors, it is unclear how these new regulations will result in any reduction in access to vapes to children. The government has not issued any statement on why it has failed to enforce the current regulations which already ban the sale of these products to those under 18.

To be clear, the proposed legislation is not yet in effect and will have to pass through the House of Commons and be ratified before any new laws come into effect, which will likely take many months or perhaps over a year. Therefore disposable vapes, their myriad of flavours and existing packaging will remain legal to sell until the new legislation comes into effect.

how long does a 600 puff disposable vape last

Do these new laws punish compliant vape retailers whilst allowing the black market to flourish?

It goes without saying that the disposable vape market has flourished over recent years, offering a simple and convenient alternative to harmful tobacco cigarettes that works out of the box – making them ideal for elderly vapers who can struggle with the intricacies of replacing coils or using more complicated devices like vape pods and vape pens. However, their clear environmental impact and the ongoing innovation of refillable and rechargeable vapes that work in a similar way to disposables, such as the BEAR Pro MAX, mean that on balance a ban on single-use disposables is a positive step forward for the industry.

However, the newly announced legislation does not address the primary issue at the heart of the debate – how minors are able to access these prohibited products in the first place.

Banning these devices under the guise that it will in any way reduce access to e-cigarettes for minors does not address the fact that the only way a minor can purchase these devices is by purchasing them illegally or getting an adult to purchase them on their behalf – which no amount of legislation, plain packaging or restrictions on flavours could prevent. Only better enforcement of existing legislation and by actually punishing retailers who break the law with heavy fines or removing their licence to sell at all will have any effect on reducing access of these devices to children.

Furthermore, it is concerning that the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products will still continue to be permitted whilst disposable vapes would be banned. This would mean that accessing tobacco products will be far easier than accessing 95% safer alternatives like disposable vapes, which would seem contradictory given the governments focus on cutting smoking rates across Britain. It will be the larger and compliant vape retailers who will absorb the costs of this new legislation whilst those selling illegally on the black market will go unpunished, and may even profit from what were previously legal products flooding the black market after the ban comes into effect.

There are far more convincing arguments for supporting a ban on single-use disposable vapes, such as their damaging environmental effects, than unsubstantiated claims that certain flavours are designed to appeal to children or that certain styles of packaging are responsible for encouraging minors to attempt to purchase them. Yet the legislation goes even further, proposing a ban certain e-liquid flavours and restricting packaging despite presenting zero evidence – other than pointing to general rise in youth vaping – that this could in any way prevent sales to minors.

How Vape Companies Prevent Underage Sales
Learn how vape shops prevent underage sales

More support is needed for local Trading Standards authorities who are on the front line against illegal vape sales

UK Trading Standards (TS) have been working over-time for several years to target rogue retailers who sell vapes to minors, however they do not possess the man power, funding or time to target every retailer all of the time. Eco-Vape fully supports the excellent work undertaken by local TS authorities across the country and commends the excellent work they do on a daily basis – they are on the front lines of the issue and deserve more respect and praise for their excellent work to keep the country safe.

Yet despite their efforts, they remain under resourced, under-manned and underfunded. Existing laws already permit fines of up to £2,500 for retailers found selling vapes to minors, yet given the introduction of further proposed legislation, clearly the current level of enforcement has not had the desired effect of reducing access to minors via these illegal routes.

With the wide remit local TS authorities are responsible for, covering topics as different as animal safety to illegal tobacco sales, it is often impossible for local and regional Trading Standards teams, who often “have less than five full-time equivalent staff and only one fully qualified Trading Standards Officer” to properly enforce the existing legislation that the government already has in place.

Despite the fact that the newly announced funding – more than £100m over the next five years – will be allocated to support various UK authorities in tackling the growing problem of underage vape sales, it is unclear if this will be enough to increase the level of on-the-ground enforcement and will lead to rogue retailers actually being punished for breaking the law.

high vis jacket with trading standards written on the back

Does the new funding for regulatory agencies go far enough?

Announcing extra funding that will be distributed across UK Border Force, HMRC and Trading Standards will hopefully go some distance to helping to improve enforcement of the new proposed legislation and will help local authorities in England and Wales to target the rogue retailers responsible for the growing number of underage sales to minors.

The Government also states that these new regulations will also be “supported by new funding of more than £100 million over the next 5 years, from the UK government, to boost the existing HMRC, Border Force and Trading Standards enforcement capability. ”

However, with Trading Standards set to receive £30m per year in extra funding alongside UK Border Force and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), this represents a small increase especially when inflation is taken into consideration. The agency is already struggling to enforce the existing legislation, let alone a new set of proposed laws.

An extra £86,206 for each local Trading Standards authority per year. Is it enough?

With approximately 116 local Trading Standards authorities across England, Scotland and Wales, even if National Trading Standards (NTS) received the entire £30m extra funding each year, this would represent a mere £258,620 per local authority. If the funding is divided into three to include Border Force and HMRC (assuming an even split of 33.3% for each agency), this would represent just £86,206 a year extra for each local authority, as a ball park figure.

This could potentially fund the hiring of an additional 2-3 staff members at the most per local authority, not taking into account other increases in inflation nor the costs (and time) of training these new staff members. Nor does it take away from the numerous other responsibilities Trading Standards must continue to oversee including agriculture (animal feed delivery programme), consumer protection, product safety enforcement, letting agency work, doorstep crime and scams, domestic violence and scams, illicit tobacco sales and more. In 2016-2017, there were only 1,030 qualified TS officers across the entirety of Great Britain. How this small increase in funding will provide the necessary increase in enforcement capability with these essential agencies is at best unclear.

The announcement on the UK Government website proposes that: “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.”

We fully support the outstanding work of Trading Standards who work closely with compliant vape retailers across the country, who along with the entire UK vape industry, will now be rushing to understand the new proposed legislation and figure out what proportion of the new budget they will receive and how it can be used to increase their man power to enforce yet more laws targeting vape products.

disposable vape hand check

Reducing access for adults to safer alternatives to tobacco is the wrong approach

Of course, vaping is not without its risks. E-cigarettes are not, should not, and have never been recommended to minors nor to anyone who does not already smoke tobacco – vaping is a smoking cessation tool for adults and has proven to be one of the most successful nicotine alternatives available.

In their announcement, the Government itself admits that “they [vapes in general] contribute to an extra 50,000-70,000 smoking quits a year in England.” We believe the flavours used in vapes and e-liquids are essential to offering a better, more attractive alternative that is as far away from the experience of smoking tobacco cigarettes which can encourage smokers to quit successfully – especially when combined with attending ‘Stop Smoking’ groups ran by the NHS and some local councils.

Is a banana flavour aimed at children?

Yet restricting flavours under the baseless assertion they are ‘targeted at’ children lacks any substantial evidence. If existing legislation was properly enforced in the first place, there would be no need to ban certain flavours or packaging at all. Furthermore, who decides which flavours are aimed at children and which are not?

Is a banana flavour aimed at children? Is yellow packaging used to denote a banana flavour itself responsible for children wanting to vape, or is it simply the logical colour any brand would use to denote a banana flavour? What about cola flavours, enjoyed by adults across the country and often found in brown packaging? Is there any evidence whatsoever that brown packaging attracts children? Does the often colourful and intricate packaging on alcoholic drinks also children, does alcohol also require the same regulations despite also being illegal to sell to minors? This is an entirely subjective distinction and is a complete distraction from the actual issue at hand – preventing minors from accessing these already prohibited products followed by clear punishments for retailers who are found selling restricted products to children.

More importantly, regardless of the flavours or packaging style used with a vape device, it is not clear how those who already break the law by selling these devices to minors are going to suddenly decide to follow any new laws that are introduced. These policies will inevitably cost compliant retailers time and money to alter their services and products to remain compliant with UK laws, whilst those committing the offences in the first place will inevitably gain access to an influx of previously legal devices to then potentially make even more profit from their ongoing illegal sales to minors.

A ban on single-use vapes would reduce environmental waste, but the industry is well ahead of the Government

The government acknowledges – and Eco-Vape agrees – that the ban on single use vapes will have positive effects on the environment, reducing the amount of plastic and electronic waste that ends up in landfill from disposable vapes. The Government’s announcement states that “Five million disposable vapes are thrown away each week, up from 1.3 million from last year. Over a year this is equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles.”

Yet the UK vape industry identified this issue years ago and is well ahead of the Government. There are now a variety of refillable and rechargeable alternatives already available and becoming very popular with new and experienced vapers that are already helping to reduce the amount of waste generated by single-use vapes. For example, one refillable and rechargeable vape like the BEAR Pro MAX can last 16 times longer than a single-use disposable.

Innovation in the vape industry is already helping to solve many of the genuine issues caused by disposable vapes, yet the focus on banning of flavours and changing of packaging ignores the obvious point that until local authorities are actually given the manpower and funding to consistently enforce the existing regulations on the ground, then no amount of legislation will prevent minors from accessing vapes of any kind – whether they are single-use or otherwise.