Underage Vaping: Does the UK Need Tougher Legislation?April 26, 2023
As the use of disposable vapes continues to surge in popularity, worries about the impact of underage vaping on young people are escalating in the United Kingdom and around the world. Despite a legal age limit of 18 years for purchasing e-cigarettes, the NHS reports a 9% rise in the use of these products by 11-15 year olds from 2018 to 2022. This suggests that the existing regulations may not be adequate. This has lead some to the question of whether tighter laws are necessary to prevent underage vaping in the UK.
Social media is one of the major concerns when it comes to youth vaping. Whilst a review of vape product marketing in 2019 found that advertisements in general were largely compliant with the advertising code that aims to prevent intentional marketing to young people, social media presented a different situation.
According to government reports, young people who have never smoked or vaped tend to notice vaping-related social media posts more frequently than adult smokers. This is particularly pronounced in the UK, where marketing legislation appears to have little impact on the vaping content that young people are exposed to compared to Canada and the United States.
This suggests that stricter legislation, particularly in terms of social media marketing, may be necessary to prevent further increases in underage vaping. With their eye-catching colours and a variety of sweet flavours, young people are particularly susceptible to current trends. It’s no surprise that many are concerned about disposable vapes ending up in the hands of minors.
Myths About Underage Vaping
Despite growing concerns about youth vaping, there are several myths circulating regarding the dangers of vaping and the severity of the issue. Action on Smoking and Health and UK Vaping Industry Association have both spoken out to address these misconceptions.
ASH’s report highlights media reports that claim underage vaping could become a “public health catastrophe” without substantiated evidence to support these claims. The report focuses on debunking myths about vaping. It emphasizes that there is no strong evidence linking vaping to becoming a gateway to smoking. In fact, the rise in vaping has been accompanied by a decrease in smoking.
Additionally, e-cigarettes have been around for over 15 years and have become a popular quitting aid since their arrival. There have been no widespread health problems in the UK associated with vaping. Therefore, the claim that youth vaping could become a potential public health catastrophe is far-fetched. This is especially so when media seems to be less concerned about underage smoking and the health problems it causes.
How These Myths Cause Harm
However, the inaccuracy of these media reports is not the only concern. Whilst e-cigarettes are not completely harmless and should not be promoted to young people, negative media reports may be doing more harm than good. In the US, an anti-vaping campaign led some young people to conclude that they would “rather be seen smoking than vaping.”
Similar concerns have been expressed by UKVIA. The organisation cited a survey conducted by YouGov to demonstrate that the extent of youth vaping may be overstated by the media. According to the 2019 survey, three-quarters of 11-18 year olds were either unaware of vaping or had never tried it. Moreover, the survey revealed that young people who vape are mostly current or former smokers.
It is important to remember that cigarettes are just as accessible to young people as vapes. Whilst ideally, young people would avoid both smoking and vaping, it is worth noting that e-cigarettes have been found to be at least 95% safer than smoking tobacco. If e-cigarettes can assist young people in quitting smoking, which is known to be highly detrimental to health, then perhaps it would be more effective to discourage them from using tobacco.
Additionally, the survey found that an increasing number of young people erroneously believe that vaping is equally as harmful as smoking. This could be attributed to the sensationalist reporting by some media outlets. This in turn highlights the need for balanced reporting on both sides of the issue.
Does the UK Need Tougher Legislation On Underage Vaping?
Is it necessary for the UK to have stricter legislation for underage vaping? It could be argued yes. Especially in terms of social media where young people are most likely to encounter content promoting e-cigarettes. Restricting the access to such content could help reduce the number of underage vapers who have never smoked before. However, it’s important to note that the current anti-vaping media narrative may unintentionally lead young people to believe that vaping is just as harmful as, or even more harmful than, smoking. This could potentially result in more young people turning to tobacco, and it may also undermine the positive effects of vaping as a potential tool for smoking cessation.
Join the conversation on Twitter: