Last week, Rishi Sunak’s government announced plans to ban disposable vapes on the grounds of improving children’s health. Something has clearly gone wrong if it can be simultaneously true that it is illegal for a child to buy a vape, but nearly 8% of 11 to 17-year- olds now claim to use them either regularly or occasionally, according to the BBC.
There’s no doubt that something must change when it comes to preventing minors from getting access to disposable vapes. The debate changes, however, when we look at this issue from the point of view of students and young adults.
Given that all current evidence points to cigarettes being far more dangerous for our health – relatively, that is – is there not a huge risk that removing easily accessible disposable vapes from the market will push many into a regular smoking habit? Vapes are intended, after all, to be a way out of smoking – this, surely, is where the UK has lost its path on the way to improving the health of our nation’s lungs.
A study published recently noted that over 300,000 18 to 24-year-olds currently use disposable vapes but have never regularly used tobacco. However, a ban would affect close to 2 million further adults (from all ages, but some of whom must be students) who, either currently or used to, smoke tobacco. The disposable vapes flagrantly displayed in most shops are undeniably – and totally immorally – targeted at children. Think of the difference between the marketing of a disposable vape and a packet of cigarettes: one looks almost like a harmless sweet from a 10-year-old’s birthday party, whilst the other might bear a slogan such as “smoking can kill your unborn child”.
The government has announced tighter advertising regulations for other types of vape. These stricter rules should be applied to disposable vapes – alongside other smoking devices – rather than totally prohibiting their sale.
Additionally, instead of bringing in new legislation, the government should work on better enforcing the laws it already has to protect minors. For students and other young adults, though, a blanket ban is not the most pragmatic way forward.
Young adults should be free to make their own decisions about using a disposable vape. On health –rather than environmental– grounds, it seems most sensible to allow anyone who would benefit from vaping – rather than smoking – to be allowed to do so. To discourage non-smoking-adults from picking up a disposable vape, we should not allow packaging to be a vehicle for advertising. Rather, disposable vapes should send a clear, medical message: I am the lesser of two evils.