February 27, 2024
The UK government’s recent announcement of a ban on disposable vapes marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate surrounding vaping, striking a balance between public health concerns, environmental sustainability, and individual freedoms. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan aims to address the escalating rates of youth vaping, reflecting a broader global trend. The ban, expected to be in force by late 2024 or early 2025, is part of a comprehensive response to the rise in vaping among children and adolescents.

Rising Youth Vaping Rates

Disposable vapes have been identified as a “key driver” in the alarming increase in youth vaping. Vapes have become popular because they are easy to buy, and for the fact they are billed as “healthier” than traditional cigarettes, as well as due to how they are marketed and packaged. They are sold in supermarkets and in corner shops around the UK, and the packaging is brightly coloured. They also come in flavours that entice children, such as bubblegum, strawberry lemonade, and blueberry.

Figures from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity indicate that 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds now regularly or occasionally vape, up from 4.1% in 2020. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasised the need for “strong action” to prevent children from becoming addicted to vaping, citing unknown long-term health impacts.

The Role of Disposable Vapes in Smoking Cessation

The UK Vaping Industry Association contends that vapes have played a crucial role in helping millions of adults quit smoking. Prime Minister Sunak assures that the proposed ban strikes a balance between restricting access for children and ensuring adult smokers have alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

Vaping is considered substantially less harmful than smoking, but concerns persist regarding the long-term health effects, given its relatively recent introduction.

Is Vaping Legal at the moment?

Currently, vaping regulations exist in a somewhat ambiguous realm, distinct from the more clearly defined rules governing smoking. As it stands, individuals must be 18 years or older to both purchase and use vaping devices in the UK. The e-liquid, housed in vape cartridges, is subject to specific limitations: it must not exceed two millilitres in volume or contain more than 20 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre.

While selling vapes to individuals under the age of 18 is strictly prohibited, products without nicotine content can be legally sold. Vaping is generally permitted in the UK, with no overarching legal restrictions or nationwide laws governing its use in public spaces. The use of vaping devices indoors is broadly acceptable, unless a particular venue or public area has instituted a specific prohibition. Importantly, individual businesses and organisations retain the autonomy to establish their own policies concerning vaping on their premises.

Legislative Timeline

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins expressed confidence that the new legislation would pass Parliament before the upcoming general election, expected in 2024, with implementation slated for early 2025. Retailers would be given six months to comply once the timing is confirmed.

While the government faces criticism for a perceived two-year delay, there are indications that existing environmental legislation could be leveraged for a more expeditious introduction of the ban.

Additional Regulations and Consultations

The proposed legislation, announced on 28 January, includes measures to restrict the marketing of refillable vapes to children by using plainer, less appealing packaging. A public consultation will further determine the specific flavours to be banned and the manner in which refillable vapes are sold. The government aims to impose fines on shops illegally selling vapes to children, while also considering displaying refillable vapes out of sight of children.


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Global Context and Comparison

The UK joins a select group of countries, including Australia, France, Germany, and New Zealand, in planning to ban disposable vapes. Some argue that the UK’s measures may not go far enough, calling for a tax on e-cigarettes to align them with tobacco or even stricter regulations, as seen in Australia where vapes are available only by prescription.

Critics’ Perspectives

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss criticised the ban as “profoundly unconservative,” reflecting concerns about potential overreach. The UK Vaping Industry Association expressed dismay, warning that the proposals could intensify the black market and advocating for better enforcement of existing laws. Some major vape manufacturers, such as Elf Bar and British American Tobacco, suggested alternative controls on importation, appeal, and access to effectively reduce under-age use.

Addressing Loopholes and Future Concerns

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins acknowledged the need to address potential loopholes, such as companies attaching charging points to disposable vapes. The draft legislation, designed to complement the ban, aims to anticipate and eliminate ruses that could undermine the intended impact.

The government’s commitment to making vaping less appealing to children includes restricting flavours, introducing plain packaging, and making displays less visible in shops.

Global Perspectives and WHO Recommendations

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged all governments to ban the sale of vapes or implement measures to reduce their appeal. Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director for Health Promotion, highlighted the alarming increase in e-cigarette use among children globally, emphasising the need for preventive action.

Environmental Impact and Waste Reduction

Another dimension to the disposable vape ban revolves around environmental sustainability. Campaigners have long argued that disposable vapes contribute significantly to environmental degradation, with their wasteful design and challenging disposal methods.

The proposed ban aligns with broader global initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and electronic waste. By curbing the use of disposable vapes, the UK aims to address both public health concerns and environmental sustainability, illustrating a multifaceted approach to legislation.

Individual Freedoms and Smoking Cessation

While the ban primarily focuses on youth protection, critics argue that it may infringe upon individual freedoms, particularly for adults seeking smoking cessation alternatives. The UK Vaping Industry Association contends that vapes have played a crucial role in helping millions of adults quit smoking.

The delicate balance lies in implementing measures that protect youth without unduly restricting access for responsible adult users. Striking this balance involves careful consideration of flavours, packaging, and marketing to ensure adult smokers have viable alternatives while deterring youth initiation.


The UK’s decision to ban disposable vapes reflects a delicate balancing act between safeguarding youth from potential health risks and preserving access for adults seeking smoking alternatives. As the legislation progresses, it will be crucial to address concerns, ensure effective enforcement, and continually assess the impact on both public health and individual freedoms. The global context and WHO recommendations underscore the importance of collaborative efforts to navigate the evolving landscape of vaping regulations.


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