Scaremongering around the “epidemic” of Youth Vaping has captured headlines and no doubt the inboxes of policymakers and politicians across the UK. Responding to this manufactured alarm, the Prime Minister is reportedly considering a disposable vape crackdown. While there are industry problems that do need to be addressed, the argument also needs balance, and there is a line at which government intervention should stop.
No one wants vapes in the hands of children but the furore about advertising should be put into some perspective. For the tobacco industry, it is simply not sound business to market directly to children. The latest Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) survey estimates that only 2.3 per cent of 11–17-year-olds who regularly vape never smoked. This equates to just 126,500 kids, all of which have far less disposable income than adults. Hence, it does not make business sense to pursue a tiny market when there are many millions more lucrative customers among the adult population. CEOs also have a financial interest in not advocating such a business model because of the possible reputational damage which selling tobacco products to children could bring.
There has been some suggestion that a total ban on flavoured vapes could be the best course of action. However, it is simplistic to think that just because there are a variety of flavoured e-liquids available, it is proof of marketing to children. Cotton candy is one thing, but the existence of restaurant dessert menus proves that adults enjoy fruit and sweet-tasting treats too. Flavours are vital for smokers to distance themselves from cigarettes. Flavourless vapes simply don’t do the job. The government must not overstep and risk harming efforts to achieve a smoke-free 2030.
The sensationalism around the impacts of youth vaping on children are similarly overblown. Much recent media attention has focussed on the hospitalisation of young people supposedly as a result of vaping, but much of this is hyperbole. Instead, recent reports about the hospitalisation of 40 people under the age of 20 in England last year show the real story. There are 5.5 million 11- to 17-year-olds in the UK which roughly equates to an under-20s hospitalisation rate of 0.0005 per cent. It’s hardly an ‘epidemic.’ Especially when it’s compared to the effects of far more harmful substances like alcohol which hospitalises 30 children each day.
In 2010, around 12 per cent of school pupils were smokers. In 2021 this had fallen to 3 per cent. Only 1.7 per cent of those young people who vape today are not former smokers. Combustible tobacco is far more of a concern than vaping products which are at least 95 per cent less harmful according to UK health authorities.
Kids are always going to rebel. Vapes are a fad among the current generation and whatever happens, they’ll find a way to use them. All the government can do is make it as difficult as possible for them to have access. While it is right to have some concern over the rise of vaping among the youth, intervention must be carefully balanced to not disrupt smoking reduction efforts. In an era where kids consume things far more harmful for them at festivals and via their smartphones, if the worst thing adolescents do is share a vape with some mates down at the park then society should not lose too much sleep.