April 22, 2024

A loophole allowing retailers to give free vape samples to children is set to be closed under government plans to curb their use among young people.

A new crackdown on vape marketing would prevent the “unacceptable” targeting of children and teens, Rishi Sunak said.

There will also be a review into the rules around the sale of “nicotine-free” products to under-18s.

Labour called the announcement a “baby step” and said urgent action is needed.

The government plans also include a review of rules on issuing fines for shops selling illicit vapes.

By tightening the law, it said it would be easier for local trading standards officials to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices to shops who sell vapes to underage people.

While selling vapes to under 18s is illegal, nicotine-free products can be sold.

The government said NHS figures showed a rise in underage vaping, with cheap and colourful products attracting children.

According to the latest NHS figures, nine per cent of 11-15 year olds in 2021 had used e-cigarettes, up from six per cent in 2018.

Two out of five young people said they smoke vapes “just to give it a try”, and about one in five because “other people use them so I join in”, according to the results of a recent government survey.

A investigation investigation found that a haul of illegal vapes confiscated at a school included some with double the safe levels of lead and even higher with nickel. The Prime Minister said he was shocked by this finding.

There is now a fast-moving debate on how to tackle vaping by children.

Teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the increased availability of the products and that some pupils say they have become addicted to nicotine through vaping.

Under the law, only the sale of nicotine products to people under 18 is banned.

While tobacco products cannot be given out to under-18s for free, this is not currently the case with nicotine products like vapes.

The government said that while most businesses are not carrying out this practice, some rogue traders are taking advantage of the loophole.

In the last year, around 20,000 children in the UK were given a free vape, according to data from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

Teenagers hold some of the vapes confiscated at a secondary school
Image caption,

An analysis of vapes used in schools showed children using them could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead, and nine times the safe amount of nickel.

Last week, the PM spoke about his concern about the rise in vape use among younger people, telling ITV’s This Morning he did not want his daughters “seduced by these things”.

He said it was “ridiculous” that vapes are promoted to children, and pledged to look at ways of strengthening marketing rules.

Announcing the new set of measures aimed at limiting underage vaping, he said he was “deeply concerned” about an increase in children vaping and was “shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of schoolchildren”.

“The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty called the decision to close the loophole a “very welcome step”.

“Whilst vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping,” he said.

“There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.

“We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, whilst preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children.”

The latest announcement comes just weeks after ministers unveiled a new enforcement drive and called for evidence on what further steps to take. Mr Sunak’s intervention suggests he feels the need to go further.

Pupils will also be taught about the health risks of vaping in Relationships, Sex and Health Education lessons, as part of the ongoing government review of the curriculum.

And a resource pack for schools on vaping is being developed, which will be rolled out online in July.

Intended for children aged 11-13, the educational resource will inform young people about the addictiveness of nicotine and the evidence that their developing brains may be more sensitive to its effects.

The move follows the government establishing a vape enforcement squad last month to increased education around the dangers of vaping in schools, as well as school police liaison officers to remove e-cigarettes.

Health minister Neil O’Brien called any marketing of vaping products to children “shameful”.

He said the government would “review the rules” into vaping knowing that they can be “a gateway” to using other nicotine products like cigarettes.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “We have to act now to stop a new generation of kids getting hooked on nicotine.

“But the Conservatives voted down Labour’s plan to ban the marketing of vapes to children.

“This new announcement is a baby step when we need urgent action now.

“The next Labour government will come down like a tonne of bricks on those pushing vapes to kids.”

The Chartered Trading Institute, which oversees trading standards in the UK, said it welcomes the government’s announcement, and that the measures “were necessary”.

A spokesman said: “Some retailers are not acting responsibly and continue to knowingly sell to people under 18 years old.

“In addition to reducing the accessibility of vaping we also want to ensure that vaping becomes less attractive to non-smoking young people and welcome the measures to address the youth appeal of vapes through marketing and promotional activities in shops.”

Already campaigners are arguing that it needs a bolder approach with taxation to make vapes less affordable, while continuing to promote them as an option for adult smokers wanting to quit the habit.

Deborah Arnott, ASH chief executive, said while it welcomed the government’s actions, the PM’s proposals were just “baby steps” when it comes to tackling the issue.

She said: “Our surveys show that the growth in youth vaping is primarily in cheap disposables costing as little as £1.99, which is why we called on the government to put an excise tax on single use vapes in the Spring Budget, but to no avail.

“A finance bill could easily be put before parliament to put a fiver on every single use vape, which would make them much less affordable for children, who are very price sensitive.”

Ms Arnott added that in 2021, the government refused to accept cross-party amendments to the Health and Social Care bill, which would have given it powers to regulate branding and ban the free distribution of vapes.

“If those powers were in place today action could be taken now without further delay,” she added.

 

 

Credit: Jasmine Andersson & Hugh Pym
BBC News

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