Disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of plans to tackle the rising number of young people taking up vaping, the government says.
Measures will also be introduced to prevent vapes being marketed at children and to target under-age sales.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested adult smokers trying to quit would still have access to alternatives like vapes under the proposals.
The ban is expected to be introduced across the UK, the government said.
It is already illegal to sell any vape to anyone under 18, but disposable vapes – often sold in smaller, more colourful packaging than refillable ones – are a “key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping”, according to the government.
Figures from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity suggest 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds now vape regularly or occasionally, up from 4.1% in 2020.
Announcing the plans on Monday, Mr Sunak said it was right that “strong action” was taken to stamp out vaping in children.
“Children shouldn’t be vaping, we don’t want them to get addicted, we still don’t understand the full long-term health impacts,” he said.
The UK Vaping Industry Association said vapes had helped “millions of adults quit and stay off cigarettes”, and said the proposals would put children at risk by “turbocharging the black market”.
Mr Sunak suggested the proposals struck the right balance between restricting access for children and maintaining access for adult smokers trying to quit smoking.
Vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking, but it has not been around for long enough for its long-term risks to be known, according to the NHS.
The vapour that is inhaled can still contain small amounts of chemicals that are found in cigarettes, including nicotine – which is addictive but not seen by the health service as one of the most problematic ingredients in cigarettes.
The proposals follow last year’s announcement of a ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 as part of an attempt to create a “smoke-free generation”.
Former prime minister Liz Truss criticised the proposed ban, describing it as “profoundly unconservative”.
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told the BBC she was confident the new bill regarding vapeswould pass Parliament by the time of the general election – expected to be this year – with it coming into force in early 2025.
Once the timing is confirmed, retailers will be given six months to implement it.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he supported a disposable vapes ban but criticised what he described as a two-year delay by the government in introducing legislation. The bill could be brought in using existing legislation designed to protect the environment.
Campaigners have long argued that disposable vapes are wasteful and that the materials and chemicals used to make them, including their lithium batteries, make them difficult to dispose of safely.
The latest changes would also introduce powers to stop refillable vapes being sold in a flavour marketed at children and to require that they be produced in plainer, less appealing packaging.
The government will also be able to mandate that shops display refillable vapes out of sight of children and away from other products they might buy, like sweets.
A further public consultation will take place to decide which flavours should be banned and how refillable vapes will be sold, the government said.
To help stop under-age sales, additional fines will be brought in for any shops in England and Wales caught selling vapes illegally to children.
Glyn Potts, head teacher of Oldham’s Newham Catholic College, said action needed to be taken to stop children being “bombarded” with “attractive” products on social media and in shops.
He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was evidence that some vape pens had been repurposed to contain “cannabis derivatives” which he claimed could hospitalise young people.
Vaping alternatives like nicotine pouches – small white pouches that are placed between the lip and gum – will also be banned for children. The pouches release nicotine but do not contain tobacco, so can currently be legally sold to under-18s.
The Scottish and Welsh governments both said they would introduce bans, either with legislation in their own parliaments or by supporting UK-wide measures.
Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration following a breakdown of power sharing, but its Department of Health said it had “a long-standing strategic aim” to be tobacco-free and would make preparations to allow incoming ministers to take a decision on the ban.
The UK has joined a small group of countries planning to ban disposable vapes. Australia, France, Germany and New Zealand have all announced similar plans, although only New Zealand has so far implemented them.
Some will argue the UK’s plans still don’t go far enough. There have been calls for a tax on e-cigarettes to bring them in line with tobacco, while Australia has made vapes available only by prescription.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said creating a “smoke-free generation” would reduce young people’s chances of developing preventable diseases in later life.
But the UK Vaping Industry Association said it was “dismayed” by the announcement, adding that disposable vapes had “played a key role in helping millions of adults quit and stay off cigarettes”.
It instead called for better enforcement of current laws, describing the proposals as a “desperate attempt by the government to sacrifice vapers for votes” which would put children at greater risk by “turbocharging the black market”.
Elf Bar – one of the country’s biggest vape manufacturers with sister brand Lost Mary – said it supported the government’s wish to stop children using vapes but expressed disappointment “with the outright ban”.
The UK arm of the British American Tobacco, the third-largest player in the disposable market, suggested increased controls on “importation, appeal, and access” would “more effectively reduce under-age use”.
Trading Standards officers say more resources and time is needed to help crack down on rogue retailers.
Local authorities can impose a maximum fine of £2,500 and the government announced a £30m package to support enforcement in October.
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