Disposable vapes are regularly used by more than 300,000 people who have never smoked, new research shows.
A major study found that more than 7 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds who have never been tobacco-users, use the devices.
In a nod to the Government’s ban plan, researchers said preventing the uptake of vaping among those who have never smoked – particularly children – must be ‘a public health priority’.
This will protect children, they said, but warned adults may need to be persuaded to switch to other e-cigarettes to prevent them going back to smoking.
A major study found that more than 7 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds who have never been tobacco-users, use the devices. Stock
The study funded by Cancer Research UK found a ban on disposable vapes would affect an estimated 2.6million adults in England, Wales and Scotland.
They said that unlike earlier disposables, current products ‘are not designed to look like cigarettes but rather have a sleek design (in a variety of colours) and branding that appeals to young people’.
From January 2021 to August 2023, the prevalence of disposable e-cigarette use grew from 0.1 per cent to 4.9 per cent of the adult population.
This rise was most pronounced among younger adults, with 15.9 per cent of 18-year-olds compared with 1.3 per cent of 65-year-olds using them.
This rises to 16.3 per cent of people who currently smoke and 18.2 per cent in those who stopped smoking in the past year, according to the survey of 69,973 adults.
While never-smokers were generally unlikely to vape, this was not the case with younger people. Some 7.1 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old people who had never smoked did vape.
Researchers noted this was likely to do with how they were marketed, writing in the journal Public Health: ‘They are promoted through colourful in-store displays, word of mouth, and social media platforms, and are widely available in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations, vape shops, and online without adequate enforcement of age-of-sale laws.’
Disposable vapes, which cost as little as £3, have seen a surge in popularity among youngsters, with one in five secondary school pupils reported to have tried vaping this year. This number has trebled in the last three years.
In June a MailOnline investigation found almost 1,000 serious adverse reactions to e-cigs had been logged by Britain’s health watchdog including blood, nervous system and respiratory disorders, as well as cancer and injuries like burns. This includes five deaths linked to the devices
NHS Digital data, based on the smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England survey for the year 2021, showed 30 per cent of children in Yorkshire and the Humber have used a vape
Latest ONS figures show the number of people smoking cigarettes in the UK has dropped to a record low. In total 6.4million adults in the UK — or 12.9 per cent — smoked in 2022. This is the lowest number since records began in 2011 and is a drop on the 13.3 per cent reported in 2021
It led the Prime Minister to announce wide-ranging proposals to clamp down on the use of vapes among children.
While it is illegal to sell them to under-18s, social media is flooded with posts from teenagers showing coloured vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry, banana and mango. Many contain addictive nicotine.
Overall, the study concluded that a ban on disposable e-cigarettes would currently affect one in 20 adults – the equivalent of 2.6million people.
Young people – including the 316,000 18 to 24-year-olds who currently use disposables but who have never regularly smoked tobacco – would be most impacted, which researchers said may discourage uptake of vaping in this group.
However, a ban would also affect 1.2 million people who currently smoke and a further 744,000 who previously smoked, they said.
Lead author Dr Sarah Jackson, from University College London (UCL), said: ‘While banning disposables might seem like a straightforward solution to reduce youth vaping, it could have substantial unintended consequences for people who smoke.
‘In the event of a ban, it would be important to encourage current and ex-smokers who use disposables to switch to other types of e-cigarettes rather than going back to just smoking tobacco.’
Dr Ian Walker, executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, and research shows that vapes are far less harmful than smoking and can help people to quit. But the long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown.
‘This study highlights the complex balancing act of disposable vape regulation and who might be most affected.
‘Vapes must be regulated so they don’t fall into the hands of children and people who’ve never smoked but also made available to people who want to quit smoking.
‘It’s important that, through clamping down on youth vaping, we don’t also create barriers for those trying to quit smoking.’
Senior author Professor Jamie Brown, also from UCL, said: ‘There is a need for action to reduce disposable vaping among young people who have never smoked. However, trade-offs need to be carefully considered.’
The researchers suggested strengthening regulations around disposable vapes including banning branding that appeals to children, such as bright colours, sweet names, and cartoon characters.
Promotion of e-cigarettes in shops should be stopped and they should be put out of sight and reach of children, they said.
Putting a tax on disposables to raise the price to the same level as the cheapest reusable e-cigarettes, could also be a deterrent, they conclude.