The youth vaping issues in the UK are no secret – headlines have circulated for months about the rising concerns associated with underage sale and use of nicotine containing vapes – even being discussed in a recent expert panel. The majority of blame is being placed on the shoulders of disposable vapes, and with justifiable reason.
The flood of single-use vaping devices like Elf, Elux, and Geek Bars onto UK shelves is down to their sheer popularity. Funky flavours, bright colours, and smooth nicotine salt e-liquid that masks the true strength of the products – all these things have created the perfect storm of consumer demand and Trading Standards are struggling to keep up.
Answering this demand has led many retailers to start stocking the most sought-after brands, despite many having never carried or having any real understanding of vaping products. This lack of understanding has led to a number of concerns of public safety, not least because alongside legal examples, illegally imported and frankly dangerous versions of disposables have also made it to our shores and into the hands of consumers.
The statistics for underage sale and use of these devices are arguably the most alarming outcome of the disposable vaping boom. With those as young as 11-15 having got their hands on vaping devices, and new reports indicating that vaping may be eclipsing drug abuse. Traditional vaping products like 10ml e-liquids are not facing the same scrutiny as disposables however as they are far less sought-after and are not seen as being as ‘trendy’.
Cannabis is Out – Vaping is In
Confiscations in schools and reports from parents and authorities have cemented the fact that vaping among secondary school children is on the rise. In 2021 nearly one in five 15-year-olds were using e-cigarettes as the disposables craze gathered momentum. according to an NHS Digital survey which asked more than 9,000 pupils in 119 secondary schools in England about their habits between September 2021 and February 2022. .
The survey found that from 2018 to 2021, the percentage of 11-15-year-olds smoking cigarettes and/or taking drugs fell from 24% in 2018 to 18% in 2021. Cannabis was the most popular drug used by this age group, but overall usage trends of all recreational drugs have continued to fall into 2022.
While the number of 11-15-year-olds who smoke cigarettes fell to 3% from 5% over the same time period, the same is not true of vaping. Indicative of the rise of disposable vapes and youth access, 9% of youngsters said they were vapers, vs a previous 6% in 2018.
Despite the rise of vaping, the charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said it was "encouraging" to see the decline in smoking which is "far more harmful than vaping". ASH has since gone on to publish advice and guidance to help inform school policies on vaping and to help parents who are fearful their teens will become addicted.
Where Are Kids Getting Vapes?
Although it is illegal to sell vaping products to under 18 year olds, many have reported that they have bought and owned their own vaping devices. In a 2021 ASH youth survey, just under a quarter (24.8%) of young people aged 11 to 17 said that they were given products by friends. But others also reported buying them, for example:
- 22.1% said they bought them from newsagents
- 22.1% said they bought them online
- 16.3% said they bought them from a supermarket
Similarly, in an ITC Youth survey, young people aged 16 to 17 who had vaped in the past 30 days commonly reported being given products by others (37.5%).
This demonstrates a clear issue among not only small retailers, but also big players too – the fact 16% of 11-17-year-olds were able to illegally buy a vaping device from a supermarket demonstrates a clear need for stronger controls and tighter regulations to ensure youth access is curtailed going forward.