Disposable vaping is well and truly confirmed as one of the most polarising aspects of the modern vaping industry. Their popularity is undeniable in the UK, with millions of the compact vapes sold since they took shelves by storm in 2021.
Their profitability to retailers has tipped the balance in many stores in favour of disposable devices, with some carrying more of these devices than vaping mainstays and in some cases, only carrying disposables. They are convenient, come pre-filled with nic salt e-liquid that packs high-strength satisfaction but a smooth hit, and boast a massive selection of flavours. When combined with a cost of around £5 vs the cost of re-useable vapes, the temptation is self-evident.
The positives they offer though are significantly outweighed by the negatives which have been getting more and more attention as the issues surrounding disposables worsen. They can’t be recycled and are made from environmentally harmful materials, they deliver a frightening amount of nicotine in the time they actually last, and they are at the heart of a major youth uptake epidemic.
Not only are they deceptively cheaper initially, but far less economical long-term than normal vapes and e-liquids - a dangerous thing during the current cost of living crisis, the market has been flooded with illegal examples. These contain more than double the legal nicotine and e-liquid levels allowed under TPD. Retailers have been caught across the country selling these illegal devices both unwittingly and quite intentionally. Worst of all, they have been sold to children en-masse, leading to parents and schools everywhere to call for stronger action.
Trading Standards have been clamping down but ultimately the issues surrounding disposables seem to be getting worse. In response to the growing unrest a panel of industry experts and government representatives gathered in a webinar to answer questions and discuss the key issues.
Who was on the expert panel?
The panel was made up of thought-leaders from different areas of the vaping industry, intending to provide their perspective on the issues.
- Private sector vaping industry veteran – Damian Stevens
- Managing Director of Vape Superstore – Edward Swain
- CEO of the Age Check Verification Scheme – Tony Allen
- Youth access specialist and Regulation and Government Policy Consultant – Murray Perkins
- Director General of the United Kingdom Vaping Association (UKVIA) – John Dunne
What was the focus of the panel?
While of course discussing the disposable vaping phenomenon, the experts were called upon to discuss ‘How the prevalence of disposable vaping products has affected the industry, and how compliance is playing an increasingly important role’. Throughout the webinar, viewers were able to make comment and ask questions, alongside the general discussion of the issues explained above.
What were the highlights of the discussion?
As viewers, we at LiQuid felt there was clearly a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of disposables and how best to tackle the issues they are causing. Despite this, some interesting points were raised, and revealing statements made, that highlighted not only how deep the issues run but how challenging they will be to correct.
One of the main issues raised, the panel explored the growing evidence of the problem, and where the biggest risks lie. Being such a hot topic, the bulk of the discussion focussed on the impact to the UK’s youth.
- Disposable vape confiscations have escalated at an alarming rate across the UK, but especially in schools. It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of children and underage teens use, or have at least tried a disposable vape at this point, with the number growing every day.
- In business terms, the disposable vaping category or products has grown it’s market share by over 600% since November 2021. You would expect that sales of traditional vape kits and bottled e-liquid or pods would have taken a hit, but the data actually shows little change. This is alarming, because it means this massive new wave of vapers have never engaged with the products before, and possibly did not even smoke. Vaping for any reason other than to avoid smoking is irresponsible and expose you to a high risk of addiction. Evidence suggests that the majority of these new vapers are in fact underage, making the risk of addiction an even bigger concern.
- Social media platforms were cited by the panel as a major driver of youth uptake. A recent ASH survey found that 45% of 11–17-year-olds found their inspiration to start using disposables from TikTok. Now the worlds largest and fastest growing social site, the platform does not have any regulation over vaping advertisements and influencers are regularly seen touting the devices. The temptations and peer pressure this poses to children and teens is a clear and present threat to their wellbeing as there is little to no education provided abut the risks of underage vaping and of nicotine in general.
- The lack of education was noted by the panel who discussed the concern that young people are not properly understanding the strength of the devices they are using. Most disposables say they contain 2% nicotine, which on the surface seems low. The reality is that this equates to 20mg/ml, which is the absolute legal maximum allowed in the UK. An average Elux or Elf bar offers 600 puffs on average, and they last about 2 days in most cases. In this short time, the device will have delivered the same amount of nicotine as 50 cigarettes, potentially to a child.
- The cost of disposables is deceptive – it seems like they are cheaper than other vapes, but long-term they are much more expensive as they need to be replaced so often. It was noted by the panel that many youngsters reportedly state they do not see the cost as a deterrent, as they were comparing them to cigarettes which retail between £10 and £15 on average.
- A frightening point raised by one viewer during the discussion was her anecdotal experience of parents who have found their children using disposable vapes. These children were illegally sold or got their hands on the devices and had developed and addiction. Because they were too young to qualify for Stop Smoking Services, and they did not want them turning to even more harmful tobacco products, the parents were actually buying their kids vapes to try and manage their new habit.
Economy vs convenience
There was a noted divergence in attitude from adults who had tried disposables. With the economic factors playing a bigger role than in youth attitudes and polarising opinion.
- Some adults stated that they had made the switch from tobacco to vaping using disposables. They quickly realised that they were far less economical however and invested in devices and e-liquids with more longevity moving forward.
- Of the 10,000 people surveyed before the panel however, 45% of adults said they will now only use disposables purely because of the convenience, regardless of these people already having devices at home, and being fully aware of the false economy.
Fines, Licensing & Responsibility
There was much debate over the best way to help curtail both youth access and illegal imports. Despite all being in agreement that not enough is being done, there was little progress made in terms of deciding what was actually achievable in terms of policing the industry.
- Licensing of disposable devices for sale was one suggestion, however it was quickly pointed out that the parameters for such a licence would be difficult to define. It was also expressed that no devices currently on the market were even close to falling within any parameters they could establish. This would mean the entire market would need to be stripped of current stock to comply while all the devices were submitted for approval – an economic risk and laborious undertaking that Trading Standards do not seem keen to approach at this time.
- The current maximum fine for carrying illegal stock or committing underage sale of £2500 was decidedly flagged as too little by all on the panel. It was suggested that to make a significant difference, the fine would need to be raised three times over the next 12 months. A £10,000 minimum was suggested as a baseline to effectively deter retailers who are making so much from disposable sales that small fines can be taken on the chin.
- There was a major call for more responsibility to be taken by manufacturers who to-date seem solely focussed on profits with no regard for the moral and social impacts of the products they release. Retailers should be held accountable for underage sale, but the issue must be addressed at the source also it was said, with bright colourful designs parred back as a minimum.
- While big changes are yet to be seen, most authorities with a stake in the issue have pledged to ramp up their efforts against illegal devices, underage sale and rogue suppliers and traders who are still exploiting the booming trend.
Trading Standards Face Challenges
Ultimately while intentions are good, it was admitted by the panel that Trading Standards simply cannot handle to scope of policing needed to get the disposables crisis under control. We were informed that in most cases in the UK, one agent is responsible for a massive area. They also lack funding to follow-up raids and actions against non-compliance effectively.
Until they are afforded additional boots on the ground and cash in pocket, Authorities seem daunted by the challenges facing the vaping industry in the wake of the disposables boom.