The government has today launched a public consultation on youth vaping as part of measures to clamp down on vapes being promoted to children.
It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised last week to ‘create the first smoke-free generation’ by introducing a new law to stop children who turn 14 this year, or younger, from ever legally being sold cigarettes.
He also set out the government’s concerns about the ‘worrying rise’ in vaping among children, with youth vaping tripling in the last three years and one in five children having now used a vape, according to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
‘Vaping is rightly used by adults as a tool to quit smoking, but the health advice is clear – if you don’t smoke, don’t vape and children should never vape,’ the DHSC said.
The consultation launched today (12 October) and is open to anyone, of any age, in the UK, and includes proposals to restrict child-friendly flavours and bright coloured packaging.
‘Last week, I promised to create the first smoke-free generation and I am wasting no time to deliver on that promise,’ Mr Sunak said.
‘Our ambitious plans will reverse the worrying rise in youth vaping while protecting our children from the dangerous long-term effects of smoking as quickly as possible.’
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay pointed to a ‘surge’ in children vaping, promising that the government is ‘committed to reversing this trend’.
He said: ‘We also need to take bold action to protect future generations from the harms of smoking addiction, which damages health at every stage of life and costs the economy billions.’
According to DHSC, smoking causes around one in four cancer deaths and 64,000 in England alone – costing the economy and wider society £17bn each year.
Recent figures show the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled, with 20.5% of children aged between 11 and 17 having tried vaping in 2023, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
Use among younger children is also rising, with 9% of 11- to 15-year-olds reportedly using vapes, according to a 2021 survey by NHS Digital.
While selling vapes to children is already illegal, the DHSC said ‘it is clear from recent statistics that vapes are too often targeted at children with the promotion of cheap, colourful and sweet flavours commonplace’.
Marketing vapes to children is ‘utterly unacceptable’, Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said, adding that ‘vaping can be useful for smokers to quit,’ but ‘should not be marketed to non-smokers’.
He added: ‘Smoking causes cancers, heart and lung disease, stroke, stillbirth and dementia. Ensuring people do not become addicted to smoking, and helping them overcome addiction to stop smoking, are two of the best interventions for health.’
Professor Whitty emphasised that, while ‘vaping is less dangerous than smoking’, it ‘still has risks and can cause addiction’.
Proposals being consulted on include:
- Making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products
- Restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children
- Regulating point of sale displays in retail outlets so that vapes are kept out of sight from children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets
- Regulating vape packaging and product presentation, ensuring that neither the device nor its packaging is targeted to children
- Considering restricting the sale of disposable vapes, which are clearly linked to the rise in vaping in children
- Exploring further restrictions for non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches
- Exploring whether increasing the price of vapes will reduce the number of young people using them
- Introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines (Fixed Penalty Notices) to enforce age of sale legislation of tobacco products and vapes
DHSC said the crackdown on vapes is against a background of ‘recognising them as an effective quit tool for smokers, and central to the ambition for England to be smoke-free by 2030’.
The eight-week consultation will ‘help shape future policy’ on vaping and smoking, DHSC said, and has ‘widespread support,’ with the Welsh Government, Scottish Government, and the Northern Ireland Department of Health ‘all giving it their backing and agreeing to a joint consultation’.
In August, a study led by Queen Mary University of London suggested vaping may offer an alternative for pregnant women who want to stop smoking, allowing them to quit safely and reducing the risk of low birth rate.