No more free vapes for kids as government launches crackdown

News / Wed 31st May 2023 at 08:43am

A LOOPHOLE that allows the vaping industry to give free samples of vapes to children in England is set to be closed under new plans announced by the Prime Minister today to clamp down on youth vaping.

This comes as recent NHS figures for 2021 showed that 9% of 11 to 15 year old children used e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018.

Selling vapes to under 18s is illegal, however it is clear from this recent rise in teenage usage of vapes and the recent surge in the use and promotion of cheap, colourful products that businesses are targeting children, which has prompted today’s action to crack down on this.

The government has also announced today that there will be a review into banning the vaping industry selling ‘nicotine-free’ vapes to under 18s. This will ensure our rules keep up with the way that vaping products are being used.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

I am deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of school children.

Our new illicit vape enforcement squad – backed by £3 million – is on the case, but clearly there is more to do. That is why I am taking further action today to clamp down on rogue firms who unlawfully target our children with these products.

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.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said:

While vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping. 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.

Closing the loophole that allows companies to give out free samples of vaping products to under 18s is a very welcome step in tackling some of the harms caused by the vaping industry.

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

There will also be a review into the rules on issuing fines to shops selling vapes to under 18s illegally to allow local Trading Standards to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices more easily. This will aim to complement existing fine and penalty procedures, and where possible cover both illegal and underage sales for vapes and tobacco. Where gaps are identified, we will take action to close them.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said:

The shameful marketing of vaping products to children is leading to growing numbers trying e-cigarettes. Today we are therefore ramping up our efforts to stop kids getting hooked on vaping, including taking steps to crack down on companies handing out free vape samples to under 18s and adding lessons on the health risks of vaping within the curriculum for the first time.

We will also review the rules on issuing on-the-spot fines to shops that break the law by selling vapes to underage children, and look into banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to under 18s – which we know can be a gateway to using nicotine products. Alongside this our new specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ will also clamp down on online shops selling illicit vapes to under 18s.

This builds on action announced last month to protect our children’s health and tackle underage vaping, while exploiting the potential of vaping to help adult smokers quit.

Gillian Golden, CEO of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), said:

Selling products to under 18s has been illegal for some years now, as have proxy sales. Those who ignore the law bring reputable retailers who uphold strict age verification protocols into disrepute. We welcome the planned review on bringing nicotine-free products under existing rules and we look forward to continuing to support enforcement agencies in tackling illicit trade and illegal products.

The loophole allowing free samples to be distributed regardless of consumer age is a gap that no self-respecting business should ever have considered exploiting. The IBVTA applauds the announcement that such activity will soon be illegal.

While it’s concerning that access to vapes by young people is on the increase, it’s encouraging to see the government’s continued recognition of the important role that vaping plays in driving down adult smoking rates.

Joe Murillo, Chief Regulatory Officer of Juul Labs, said:

We welcome the steps the UK government has outlined today to combat youth vaping.

Vapes have a role to play in helping adult smokers transition away from cigarettes, but more needs to be done to combat underage use of these products.

We believe that government, regulators and industry can collectively take action to reduce the access and appeal of vaping to those underage, including by restricting the sale and marketing of vapes to this group.

In a recent Action on Smoking and Health Smokefree GB Youth Survey 2023 of 11 to 17 year olds, 2 out of 5 young people said they smoke vapes “just to give it a try” and about 1 in 5 because “other people use them so I join in”.

That is why action will also be taken in schools, making sure that dedicated police school liaison officers across the country are using new resources to keep illegal vapes out of schools.

The health risks of vaping will be also included in Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) lessons, as part of the government’s ongoing review of RSHE, in order to further discourage children from taking up vaping.

Today’s new plans follow the announcement last month of £3 million of funding which has been provided to create a specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ to implement the rules on vaping and tackle illicit vapes and underage sales. The squad – which will work with enforcement agencies and learn from the government’s work with Trading Standards on illicit tobacco – will also tackle online shops selling illicit vapes to under 18s.

call for evidence on youth vaping launched last month will build on today’s action by looking at evidence into the appeal of vapes as well as the marketing and promotion of vapes, including on social media, to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products – and explore where government can go further. This will remain open for submissions until 6 June 2023.

Today’s measures for schools will build on new content published in October 2022 on the potential risks of vaping for young people on the FRANK and Better Health websites and we have provided input to educational resources produced by partners including the PSHE Association.

Our Office for Health Improvement foundand Disparities is also developing a new resource pack for schools on vaping, intended for children aged 11 to 13. The educational resource for young people will inform them about the addictiveness of nicotine and the evidence that young people’s developing brains may be more sensitive to its effects. It will also inform them about other potential health risks, while making clear the distinction between these risks and the known serious health harm associated with smoking tobacco. This will be made available via the Better Health School Zone website by July.

Schools can also access a Year 9 PSHE lesson on the consequences of vaping via the PSHE Association website.

While the rise in illegal youth vaping is a cause for concern, many addicted smokers have found using vapes helpful as a quitting tool. In April, we also launched announced a world-first national scheme, meaning almost 1 in 5 of all smokers in England will be offered a vape starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit as part of a series of new measures to help the government meet its ambition of being smoke free by 2030 – reducing smoking rates from 13% to 5% or less.

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