Banning disposal vapes will only make them more desirable , writes Giles Watling MP
Disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of plans to tackle the rising number of young people taking up vaping.
The Prime Minister and government are showing that they are willing to take bold and decisive action to address serious health issues. Figures from the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity suggest 7.6 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds now vape regularly or occasionally, up from 4.1 per cent in 2020.
I applaud the government and PM for taking on this massive evil head-on, before it becomes a new generation of ill health – which costs the nation dearly. I am also delighted they are including the less detectable nicotine pouches, something I have lobbied the PM on since a trader brought it to my attention.
I would also say that the government is not just punching through this “gateway” addiction, but also busting crime lords; in the first nine months of 2023 our assessment of ONS data suggests that UK consumers spent £4bn on illicit tobacco products.
Let me be clear: I am not anti-vaping. This was a great evolution of the free market – safer than cigarettes and more socially acceptable. Vapes are putting the health harm and NHS burden of smoking out of business. Based on APS data, the proportion of current smokers in the UK in 2022 was 12.9 per cent, compared with 2011 figures of 20.2 per cent of the population. That is why I don’t want to clamp down on flavours and accessibility for adults, who are using it to get off of smoking.
However, this is not to say that I don’t have concerns. I urge the government not to just grasp at headlines, but take the time to be comprehensive. The single-use vaping bill could be brought in using existing legislation designed to protect the environment. But we also need to deal with the advertising, and be honest that the non-disposable vapes are affordable and readily available, and therefore the current plan isn’t total. We also need to be honest about the fact our overstretched enforcement agencies like trading standards but are hardly waiting around for new government edicts to resource.
Let me also address the wider ban. My experience of smoking is very typical of my generation. The entire family smoked, most of them died as a result, either directly or indirectly. I also smoked until my 40s – a really bad idea.
I believe that anything we can do to change the vestiges of a well-established national habit would be a great thing to have done.
This fuller proposed legislation however, is ridiculous and I don’t believe it will have the desired effect. Like so many things we ban, it makes it naughty and therefore desirable amongst the ill informed.
With regards to the wider smoking ban, the government’s own data modelling shows that increasing the purchasing age to 21 achieves the same goal of eliminating smoking by 2050, and that neither measure delivers the 2030 lower-than five per cent ‘smokefree’ goal.
So, an increase up to 21 being the legal age to purchase solves the biggest problem of a generational ban. It’s also simpler to implement for retailers and avoids the illiberal madness of banning adults from choosing to smoke – which no real libertarian or conservative like I could ever support. A phased increase to 21 would offer a politically palatable way for the PM to act on his good instincts, to protect children, reduce smoking rates, and stick to conservative and libertarian principles.
If we are data and not dogma led, we can meet the government’s great ambition – a generation of children not lured into addiction.
We can allow cigarettes to die out naturally and for age-appropriate vaping to aid this, while providing a comprehensive plan to back up appropriate legislation to prevent youngsters getting hooked.
Giles Watling is Conservative MP for Clacton