Disposable vapes are to be banned in the UK as part of a government drive to tackle rising use among young people.
Vaping alternatives – such as nicotine pouches – will also be outlawed for children.
The planned measures follow a consultation on smoking and vaping launched in October last year, and are designed to ‘tackle the rise in youth vaping and protect children’s health’.
The government also cited research showing the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Use among younger children is also rising, according to the figures, with 9% of 11- to 15-year-olds now using vapes.
As part of the package announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak, new powers will be introduced to restrict flavours specifically marketed at children and to ensure that manufacturers produce plain and less visually appealing packaging.
The powers will also allow the government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets.
Furthermore, the crackdown on underage sales will see the introduction of a new set of fines to shops in England and Wales selling vapes illegally to children, and trading standards officers will be empowered to act ‘on the spot’ to tackle underage sales.
Commenting on the measures, the prime minister said: ‘The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable.
‘Alongside our commitment to stop children who turn 15 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, these changes will leave a lasting legacy by protecting our children’s health for the long term.’
The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee welcomed the measures, having called for the government to take action last year.
Committee chair Steve Brine said: ‘We support new powers to restrict vape flavours, introduce plain packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops.’
However, Mr Brine added that ‘it’s to be hoped that further restrictions will not make it harder for adults who want to quit and see vapes as a way out of smoking tobacco’.
The committee had been warned by school and children’s health leaders that there had been an increase in the number of children presenting with asthma, wheeze and bronchitis-type conditions because of vaping.
Research by Brunel University London found that the NHS in England would save more than £500m a year if half of the country’s adult smokers switched from cigarettes to vapes.
It also suggested that a traditional smoker would see a 70% reduction in smoking-related diseases if they transitioned to a reduced risk product such as a vape.
In response to the announced measures, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) said the tobacco industry would be ‘rubbing its hands with glee in anticipation of possible vape bans and increasing their sales’.
Marcus Saxton, chair of the IBVTA, warned: ‘With an estimated third of the UK vape market comprising illicit products, a ban will simply benefit those pushing illegal and unregulated products as people seek out single-use and flavoured vapes from illicit sources.’
He added: ‘The vape industry stands ready to work with government to implement a proportionate regulatory regime, but introducing knee-jerk and unevidenced bans is not the solution.’
Primary care minister Andrea Leadsom defended the government’s plans, commenting: ‘We are in the midst of a worrying rise in young people vaping. I want to stop youth vaping in its tracks – and a ban on disposable vapes is central to that.’
However, Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, asked: ‘What has taken the government so long?’
He added: ‘Labour put forward measures to tackle vapes being aimed at children more than two years ago, but these were blocked by the Conservatives. In the meantime, the numbers of young people vaping have soared.’