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Disposable vapes: Councils call for total ban by 2024

Aug 22, 2023

Disposable vapes cause litter problems, are a fire hazard and appeal too strongly to children, according to local councils in England and Wales.

The Local Government Association says 1.3m vapes are thrown away each week and wants them banned by 2024.

Single use varieties have surged in popularity, driven by Chinese brands such as Elfbar and Lost Mary.

The UK Vaping Industry Association says they help smokers quit and can be recycled.

Disposable vapes offer a few hundred puffs of nicotine-containing vapour, often with an added flavour of fruit or sweets, in bright plastic packaging – which are thrown away when empty.

They are easier to use than conventional vapes, or e-cigarettes, which need to be refilled with pods or liquid.

Disposable ones also contain a small lithium battery, which can increase in temperature when crushed, causing fires in bin lorries, the Local Government Association (LGA) warns.

Figures from research firm NielsenIQ suggest the problem could be even bigger than that. It says nearly 300m e-cigarettes (disposable and otherwise) were sold in the UK over the last year.

Elfbar and Lost Mary, which are made by the same Chinese firm, Shenzhen Imiracle Technology Co, made up more than half that number. That is an increase of more than four times compared to their sales the year before.

Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Disposable vapes are fundamentally flawed in their design and inherently unsustainable products, meaning an outright ban will prove more effective than attempts to recycle more vapes.”

Councils are not against vaping altogether as they believe vapes are less harmful than tobacco and can help smokers to quit.

John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said that the “low price, accessibility and ease of use” of disposable products had helped bring UK smoking rates to an "all-time low”.

“The vape industry is working hard to minimise its environmental impact, but this is mainly a consumer education issue about how to dispose of used vapes, which overall are evidenced to be highly recyclable," he said.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Disposables have been around for well over a decade and provide a low priced accessible product that helps smokers to quit smoking tobacco.".

A blanket ban could see “potentially deadly” black market products flood the UK, Mr Dunne warned.

Selling vapes and e-cigarettes to under 18s is illegal in the UK.

Lancashire County Council director of public health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said vaping had originally been seen as a way to curtail the harm caused by tobacco, but said there was a marketing problem.

He told BBC Breakfast the advertising was "unvetted and unscrupulous".

Councils are also worried that disposable varieties with “fruity and bubble gum flavours, and colourful child-friendly packaging” could appeal to under-age vapers, and called for restrictions on their display and marketing, similar to those used for conventional tobacco.

The anti-smoking charity ASH said it did not support a ban, as it would "turbo-charge" illegal sales, increasing the risk that children would be able to buy them. It favours higher taxes on disposables and stronger controls on import and sales, deputy chief executive Hazel Cheeseman said.

A spokeswoman for Elfbar said the firm is working on developing a "comprehensive programme" to safeguard and protect children.

"Simply calling for a ban on single use vapes will do nothing to tackle these issues," she said.

"The illicit market will simply fill the void with products that are unlicensed and unregulated containing substances that potentially pose a health risk."

A government spokesperson said it was also concerned about the use of vaping products, particularly among young people. Earlier this year it launched a consultation looking into the environmental and health impacts of vaping, and is considering responses.

“We strongly encourage all consumers to consider the environment and dispose of electrical waste, including by making use of take-back schemes at participating retailers,” the spokesperson said.

In Scotland, Lorna Slater, Minister for Circular Economy, said in June that single use vapes had become a "big problem - for our environment, local communities and young people,” and promised to announce new plans in the autumn.

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