London: Disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of plans to tackle the rising number of young people taking up vaping, the government says.
Measures will also be introduced to prevent vapes being marketed at children and to target under-age sales.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested adult smokers trying to quit would still have access to alternatives like vapes under the proposals.
The ban is expected to be introduced across the UK, the government said.
It is already illegal to sell any vape to anyone under 18, but disposable vapes – often sold in smaller, more colourful packaging than refillable ones – are a “key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping”, according to the government.
Figures from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity suggest 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds now vape regularly or occasionally, up from 4.1% in 2020.
Announcing the plans on Monday, Mr Sunak said it was right that “strong action” was taken to stamp out vaping in children.
“Children shouldn’t be vaping, we don’t want them to get addicted, we still don’t understand the full long-term health impacts,” he said.
Mr Sunak suggested the proposals struck the right balance between restricting access for children and maintaining access for adult smokers trying to quit smoking.
“It is important that we maintain vapes for adult smokers who want to stop,” the Prime Minister continued, adding that he wanted to target “all the things that make sure children don’t have access to vapes.”
Vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking, but it has not been around for long enough for its long-term risks to be known, according to the NHS.
The vapour that is inhaled can still contain small amounts of chemicals that are found in cigarettes, including nicotine – which is addictive but not seen by the health service as one of the most problematic ingredients in cigarettes.
The proposals follow last year’s announcement of a ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 as part of an attempt to create a “smoke-free generation”.
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told the BBC she was confident the new bill would pass Parliament by the time of the general election – expected to be this year – with it coming into force in early 2025.
Once the timing is confirmed, retailers will be given six months to implement it.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he supported a disposable vapes ban but criticised what he described as a two-year delay by the government in introducing legislation.
Sir Keir Starmer asks why the government has been slow to act on banning disposable vapes.
He also criticised suggestions Tory MPs may get a free vote on the issue – meaning they will be able to vote according to their conscience, not the party line.
The bill could be brought in using existing legislation designed to protect the environment.
Campaigners have long argued that disposable vapes are wasteful and that the materials and chemicals used to make them, including their lithium batteries, make them difficult to dispose of safely.
The latest changes would also introduce powers to stop refillable vapes being sold in a flavour marketed at children and to require that they be produced in plainer, less appealing packaging.
The government will also be able to mandate that shops display refillable vapes out of sight of children and away from other products they might buy, like sweets.
A further public consultation will take place to decide which flavours should be banned and how refillable vapes will be sold, the government said.
To help stop under-age sales, additional fines will be brought in for any shops in England and Wales caught selling vapes illegally to children.
Matt Carpenter, head teacher at Baxter College in Kidderminster, told BBC Radio 5 Live vaping was a “huge part of youth culture” and said the proposed ban on disposable vapes was a “big step forward”.
The head teacher of Oldham’s Newham Catholic College, Glyn Potts, said action needed to be taken to stop children being “bombarded” with “attractive” products on social media and in shops across the country.
He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was evidence that some vape pens had been repurposed to contain “cannabis derivatives” which he claimed could hospitalise young people.
Vaping alternatives like nicotine pouches – small white pouches that are placed between the lip and gum – will also be banned for children. The pouches release nicotine but do not contain tobacco, so can currently be legally sold to under-18s.
Health leaders will be keen to ensure that the new measures do not make it harder for adult smokers to move to vaping as an alternative.
This is where the consultation over how far to go with restrictions on flavours and displays in shops will be important.
The announcement follows an initial consultation launched late last year by the UK government and devolved administrations to gauge public attitudes to proposed measure to reduce levels of smoking and vaping.
The government said almost 70% of respondents supported a ban on disposable vapes.