Addressing the Surge in Youth Vaping

Sam Preston 5 June 2024 2 min read
Addressing the Surge in Youth Vaping feature image

The prevalence of vaping among children and young people has reached alarming levels, prompting urgent action from policymakers to safeguard their health and well-being.

The introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which has had its second reading in the House of Commons, represents a crucial step towards curbing the escalating trend of youth vaping and creating a 'smoke-free generation'.

Statistics from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reveal a concerning surge in experimentation with vaping among children and young people, accompanied by heightened awareness of vaping promotion and evolving patterns of product use. They reveal that in March/April 2023, the proportion of children experimenting with vaping increased by 50% year on year, highlighting the urgent need for intervention.

Despite legal restrictions on selling vapes to children, accessibility remains a concern, with some children reporting receiving their first vape from e-cigarette companies. The rise in disposable vape use is particularly striking, aligning with higher levels of youth vaping and suggesting a correlation between product availability and usage among young people.

If enacted, the new Bill would:

  • Make it an offence to sell non-nicotine vaping products to under-18s, in England and Wales and grant powers to Ministers in Northern Ireland to make regulations to do the same. (In Scotland, it is already an offence to sell non-nicotine vaping products to under-18s).
  • Allow the Secretary of State to make regulations restricting the retail packaging, and contents and flavouring of vaping and nicotine products. This measure would apply across the UK.
  • Make it an offence to distribute free vaping products to under-18s in England and Wales. It would also grant powers to Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to introduce similar restrictions or prohibitions.
  • Enable the Secretary of State to make new regulations restricting the display of vaping or nicotine products in retail outlets in England and Wales. It would enable Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to do the same.

In addition, the Bill would introduce on-the-spot fines (fixed penalty notices) for:

  • Selling tobacco to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 or selling vaping products to under-18s.
  • Purchasing tobacco and vaping products for someone underage.
  • Distributing vaping products to under 18s for free.

The reasons behind youth vaping are multifaceted, ranging from curiosity to peer influence and flavour preferences. However, misconceptions about the relative harm of vaping compared to smoking persist among youth, challenging assumptions about the effectiveness of health-related messaging.

In addition to its impact on public health, vaping has emerged as a predominant concern in schools, presenting unique challenges for educators. The discreet nature of vaping makes detection difficult, leading to clandestine use on school premises and disruptions to learning.

Misleading packaging and marketing further exacerbate the normalization of vaping among young people, with some parents mistakenly permitting vaping at home under the false assumption of its safety. The consensus among school staff and young adults alike underscores the importance of the Vaping Bill in curbing the normalization of vaping and protecting children's health and education.

Moving forward, comprehensive measures are needed to address youth vaping effectively. Regulatory interventions to restrict access and marketing, alongside targeted education and prevention efforts, are essential to dispel myths and promote informed decision-making among youth.

As policymakers navigate the complex landscape of youth vaping, a concerted and multifaceted approach is necessary to safeguard the health and well-being of children. Only by addressing the root causes of youth vaping and implementing evidence-based interventions, can we work towards a smoke-free future for our youth.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director