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In Context: Disposable vape ban

Vapes, e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems typically contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, nicotine, and flavourings | Adobe Stock

In Context: Disposable vape ban

What is it about?

In the interest of the health of children and the impact on the environment, the UK Government has announced restrictions on smoking and vaping following a consultation with the four nations.

Last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to ban disposable vapes in the UK. Scottish ministers confirmed their support for those plans on the same day. Alongside the ban, legislation will also look to restrict vape flavours, introduce plain packaging, and change to way the devices are displayed in shops. 

What are ‘vapes’?

Vapes, e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems typically contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, nicotine, and flavourings. The nicotine in the devices makes them highly addictive, but also means they can help people quit smoking. 

Smoking remains a leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in Scotland. In 2021, smoking accounted for an estimated 8,260 deaths in those aged 35 and over. Smoking cessation services have found attempts to quit were more likely to be successful if a person used a vaping aid.

But there have been concerns about the rising use of vapes among children. That’s because the devices can come in a variety of bright colours and flavours, for example watermelon, blue razz ice, and strawberry. The long-term health effects of vaping are still being researched, but the effects of nicotine addiction are already well known. Studies show it can harm the parts of an adolescent brain which control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

Vaping devices are battery powered, though the lifespan of the battery can vary and some are rechargeable. Disposable vape batteries usually last between three and five days. This had led to environmental concerns relating to disposal and littering.

What are the reasons behind the ban?

The UK Government is implementing the ban on disposable vapes primarily due to this environmental impact. It is also responding to concerns surrounding the increasing number of children who have tried vaping and the number who have become active users. Recent figures show the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Use among younger children is also rising, with nine per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds now using vapes. The proportion of 11 to 17-year-old vapers using disposables has increased almost ninefold in the past two years.

What is different in Scotland?

Differences in Scots law means the legislation will be implemented slightly differently here. The majority of the measures will be taken forward via UK legislation, with the Scottish Parliament asked to pass a legislative consent motion to enable Westminster to make law in a devolved area (in this case, public health). 

The disposables ban, however, will need be passed through specific Scottish legislation. There had been concerns previously about the need for an exemption to the UK Internal Market Act, as a ban in one nation of the UK but not others could effect the free movement of goods.

However, this is less likely to be an issue since the UK Government intends to also establish a ban. The two governments will now work together to achieve this aim.

The UK-wide consultation also backed some measures which already exist in Scotland, including age restrictions on non-nicotine vapes and fixed penalty notices for those who sell vapes to under 18s.

What has the response been?

In Scotland, 82.3 per cent of responses to the consultation were in support of restrictions on single-use vapes, compared to the 79.3 per cent UK-wide. Nearly three-quarters of Scottish responses favoured an outright ban, compared with 68.1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

Dr Mike McKean, the vice president at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We’re delighted that the Westminster government has heard our calls and is rightly prioritising the health and wellbeing of our children and the planet. Bold action was always needed to curb youth vaping and banning disposables is a meaningful step in the right direction.”

Though some have called for those attempting to quit smoking to still get the support they need. Dr Ian Walker of Cancer Research UK said: “If this legislation is passed, the UK Government should ensure local smoking cessation services are adequately funded, and those trying to quit are given as much support as they need to help them do so.”

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