UK launches campaign to end child vape risks as country targets smoke free generation

The UK’s crackdown on the risks of smoking and vaping has continued with the government launching new consultation on plans to eradicate youth vaping by reducing the appeal, affordability and availability of vapes to children.

The eight-week  consultation includes proposals to restrict child-friendly flavours and bright coloured packaging.

Last week, the country’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, unveiled plans to introduce a new law to stop children who turn 14 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, in a bid to create the first ‘smokefree generation’. Smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer – causing around 1 in 4 cancer deaths and 64,000 in England alone – costing the economy and wider society £17 billion each year.

He also set out the government’s concerns about the worrying rise in vaping among children, with youth vaping tripling in the last three years and one in five children having now used a vape.

Sunak explained: “Last week I promised to create the first smokefree generation and I am wasting no time to deliver on that promise.

“Our ambitious plans will reverse the worrying rise in youth vaping while protecting our children from the dangerous long-term effects of smoking as quickly as possible.”

Proposals being set out for consultation include:

  • Making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products.
  • Restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children – we want to ensure this is done in a way that continues to support adult smokers to switch.
  • Regulating point of sale displays in retail outlets so that vapes are kept out of sight from children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets.
  • Regulating vape packaging and product presentation, ensuring that neither the device nor its packaging is targeted to children.
  • Considering restricting the sale of disposable vapes, which are clearly linked to the rise in vaping in children. These products are not only attractive to children but also incredibly harmful to the environment.
  • Exploring further restrictions for non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches.
  • Exploring whether increasing the price of vapes will reduce the number of young people using them.
  • Introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines (Fixed Penalty Notices) to enforce age of sale legislation of tobacco products and vapes.

UK Health and Social Care secretary Steve Barclay said: “There has been a surge in vaping amongst children, which is why we’re taking action to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes. Vapes should never be used by children and we’re committed to reversing this trend.

“We also need to take bold action to protect future generations from the harms of smoking addiction, which damages health at every stage of life and costs the economy billions.

“These proposals build on previous initiatives to crack down on vapes becoming commonplace in classrooms while recognising them as an effective quit tool for smokers and central to the ambition for England to be Smokefree by 2030.  A UCL study estimated that swapping to vaping is already helping 50,000 to 70,000 smokers in England quit each year– saving thousands of lives.”

Recent figures show the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled, with 20.5% of children aged between 11 and 17 having tried vaping in 2023, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Similar trends are reflected globally, including in Canada and New Zealand. Use amongst younger children is also rising, with 9% of 11- to 15-year-olds reportedly using vapes, according to a 2021 survey by NHS Digital.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England said: “Smoking causes cancers, heart and lung disease, stroke, stillbirth and dementia. Ensuring people do not become addicted to smoking and helping them overcome addiction to stop smoking are two the best interventions for health.

“Vaping is less dangerous than smoking but still has risks and can cause addiction. Vaping can be useful for smokers to quit but should not be marketed to non-smokers and marketing them to children is utterly unacceptable.

“Selling vapes to children is already illegal, but it is clear from recent statistics that vapes are too often targeted at children with the promotion of cheap, colourful and sweet flavours commonplace. This is despite the addictive nature of nicotine and the long term harms of vapes being unknown.”