The UK Government is set to announce a ban on disposable vapes this week according to a Telegraph report. This is in response to continued demands from councils, pediatricians and environmental campaigners to ban these disposable devices.
The ban mirrors the likes of Australia, France, Belgium, New Zealand, and Ireland which have rolled out restrictions to curb the increasing numbers of children using disposable vapes. Details of this ban shall be revealed in a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care in the coming days.
Disposable vapes were first released in the early 2010s, an evolution of the E-Cigarette made more affordable, convenient and attractive with countless fruity flavors. Disposable vapes offer around 600 ‘puffs’ of flavored nicotine vapor. Unlike traditional vapes, they cannot be refilled with pods or liquid, so are discarded after use.
The global disposable vape market was valued at USD 5.7 billion in 2021 and is set to increase to 14.8 billion by 2023. North America has dominated the global market. This can be attributed to numerous factors including the large population, strong food and drink industry, and high disposable incomes. The Asia-Pacific has demonstrated the most growth in the market. In Japan, the strict regulations on tobacco have increased the popularity of vapes as an alternative to smoking. Meanwhile, China is leading in sales and production.
In the UK, disposable vapes have been a “smash hit” in the retail market. Disposable vape sales have significantly contributed to the vaping market doubling in value in 2022 to £793.2m from the previous years’ figures.
These new tobacco products are heralded as a safer alternative to smoking. Indeed, countless studies concur that vape products have successfully helped people quit smoking.
However, disposable vapes are far from harmless.
The key points about vaping (E-cigarettes) can be easily summarised.
If you smoke, vaping is much safer; if you don’t smoke, don’t vape; marketing vapes to children is utterly unacceptable.
I expand on these points in the article below. https://t.co/S6hrC0Y7BF
— Professor Chris Whitty (@CMO_England) May 30, 2023
There are two main motivations for the ban: the environment and children’s health.
Every week in 2023, five million single-use vapes are being thrown away in the UK — 25% more than in 2022.
According to Scott Butler, the executive director at Material Focus, a non-profit organization campaigning for the safe recycling of electrical products:
“Single-use vapes are a strong contender for being the most environmentally wasteful, damaging, and dangerous consumer product ever made.”
Concurrently, the disposable vaping clientele is not former smokers, but children and young people drawn in by the lure of marshmallow, bubblegum, ice candy, and peach mist sold at pocket money prices. Marketing that evidently appeals to those below the legal smoking age. The law dictates that only those aged 18 and over can buy vapes or e-cigarettes.
However, YouGov, Action on Smoking and Health found that vaping among 11-17 is on the rise, from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023. And 15% of 16-17 year olds are current vapers. These figures highlight an increase in young people’s uptake of tobacco products and the failure of existing legislation to limit access to vapes for under 18-year-olds, instead marketed much like sweets sold by the counter.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health supports the ban with serious concern that “youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children.” The College warned that e-cigarettes “are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes.”
Youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic, with disposable e-cigarettes the top choice for children and young people.
We're calling for a ban on disposable e-cigarette products to protect children's health and the environment. #BanDisposableVapes
— RCPCH (@RCPCHtweets) June 6, 2023
The proposed ban in the UK is a measure to remove these products from the market to curb the growing nicotine addiction among underage vapers.
The Lifespan of a Disposable Vape
Elfbar and Lost Mary are two of the most popular disposable vape brands in the UK. They are both produced by the same Chinese firm, Shenzhen Imiracle Technology Co. Interestingly, China has banned the sale of sweet-flavored vapes, due to growing concerns of young people becoming addicted.
However, Chinese production and export are permitted to continue. Thus the fruity flavors of Elfbar and Lost Mary are shipped to the UK to line the corner shop shelves.
As a result, the UK high street is brimming with vape stores: between 2017 and 2020 there was a 61% increase in standalone vape shops in the UK.
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Candy-coloured packaging lures in customers for their sweet nicotine fix. This branding is one of the most persuasive motivations for the ban because of its appeal to underage users.
After purchase the expected life span of the product is three to five days, after which the vape is no longer usable. Each disposable vape is made up of a plastic tube encasing a lithium battery.
Lithium batteries are valuable resources, especially in the renewable energy transition. Each vape contains approximately 0.15g of lithium. With more than 1.3 million vapes disposed of every week, more than 10 tonnes of lithium is going into the landfill every year. That is enough lithium to make batteries for 1,200 electric cars.
In the UK, the plastic casing and lithium battery can be recycled. The UK government obligates large electronic retailers to take electronic recyclables to be processed. However, in practice, the retailers and consumers are unaware of UK regulations or unwilling to comply.
Furthermore, the process of dismantling a disposable vape is not recommended for the consumer as it can be dangerous. This helps explain why 50% of these vapes are thrown into landfills. This is a grave waste of valuable resources and poses a safety risk because lithium batteries in landfills are prone to creating fires.
The short three to five-day lifespan of the disposable vape function is followed by 1,000 years of degrading in landfills if they are not properly recycled.
The ban does raise concerns for an emerging black market of vape production, potentially using more harmful materials. It has been suggested that this issue would be addressed in subsequent legislation, although one may well wonder why one needs to wait for the problem to develop. Both economic theory and past experience show that this will most certainly happen: Whenever a product is prohibited, an illegal market develops.
There is no question, however, that this assertive action to ban disposable vapes that are picking up steam across the world is a hopeful step in reconsidering our relationship with such disposable products.