Top health experts in the UK are worried that their message to the public that stated that vaping was 95% safer than smoking has backfired.
The belief is that this message has now allowed a surge of young people to be encouraged to use vapes. With evidence still being gathered as to the actual dangers of vaping, many UK officials want to emphasise now that these electronic devices should only be used by those who are trying to end their addiction to cigarettes. We’re going to delve into the issue of young people vaping and discover how much of a problem it actually is in the UK. Let’s do this.
What are Disposable Vapes?
Before we can understand what the vaping situation is like in the UK right now, let’s first look at what these extremely popular devices actually are. Disposable vapes, often referred to as disposable e-cigarettes or disposable pods, are a type of electronic vaping device designed for one-time use. They have gained popularity in recent years as an alternative to traditional combustible tobacco products and as a convenient and portable option for vaping enthusiasts. Here’s why:
1 – Design and Functionality
Disposable vapes are compact, self-contained devices that typically resemble traditional cigarettes or small, pen-style e-cigarettes. This makes it way easier to make the transition from cigarettes to vaping because you’re doing the same action. They are pre-filled with e-liquid (vape juice) and come with a battery inside. Unlike refillable ones, these vapes are simply used, finished, and then thrown away. Again, this is similar to that of a cigarette, except there’s a lot more puffs in a vaporizer. The average puff amount is around 500.
2 – E-liquid
Disposable vapes come with a specific amount of e-liquid already filled in the device, which is usually indicated on the packaging. Users do not need to purchase separate e-liquid bottles or cartridges. Once the e-liquid is used up, the entire device is disposed of, and a new one can be bought.
3 – Flavours
Disposable vapes offer a wide range of flavours, from traditional tobacco and menthol to various fruits and sweets. Types include: Blueberry, Blue razz ice, cherry ice and lemonade. The availability of diverse flavours has contributed to their popularity among young people.
4 – Convenience
One of the primary advantages of disposable vapes is their convenience. They are pre-filled and ready to use right out of the package, eliminating the need for maintenance, refilling, or charging. This makes them a straightforward and hassle-free option. They are also easily portable.
5 – Cost
Some would argue that the cost of disposable vapes are cheaper than cigarettes, especially when you consider the amount of puffs you get. But while they may be initially affordable, frequent use can add up in expenses compared to reusable vaping devices where only e-liquid needs to be purchased.
Young Vapers in the UK
The most common vapes in the UK are ElfBar and LostMary. If you were a fly on the wall at any young person’s party, there is almost a 100% chance that these devices would be littered around like mini multi coloured lightsabers. But that’s the issue right there. Young people use vapes a lot – potentially a lot more than they would have been smoking had these appealing devices not been available in the first place. According to a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics in 2022:
“More than one in 10 people aged 16-24 said they were daily or occasional users”
So what’s gone wrong here? Disposable vapes were introduced as a perfect solution to the quitting smoking problem. This problem was that, at that current time, there really wasn’t any decent alternative for nicotine addicts. Patches and gum simply weren’t working. But then came the vape. At first, reusable vapes seemed to be helping, but there was still potentially something missing. The ability to throw cigarettes away after a smoke was not being replicated by the refillable vaporizers, but then came disposable devices. These multi-coloured, multi-flavoured e-cigs look fun and taste fun. But there’s the potential problem. Cigarettes do not look fun or taste fun – they are simply cigarettes. So why have vaping companies decided to make their disposable vapes so sweet-like in their appearance? Some would argue that it’s a method to help smokers quit. Others might say that this was a dangerous, appealing tactic to younger people. In a BBC exclusive interview, Dr McKean said:
“Vaping is not for children and young people. In fact it could be very bad for you… There are many children, young people who have taken up vaping who never intended to smoke and are now likely addicted to vaping. And I think it’s absolutely shocking that we’ve allowed that to happen.”
So, with 34% of 16-17 years old and 38% of 18 year olds having vaped in the UK, what’s gone wrong here?
What’s Gone Wrong?
In 2015, the government and the National Health Service made a public declaration that e-cigarettes were 95% less harmful than cigarettes. These findings were released and were shared nationally. However, nowhere in the report did it really take into account what repercussions this might have. The UK Gov website writes:
“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm.”
This statement, with current research, is essentially true. Almost all scientists would agree that vaping has shown to be far less dangerous than vaping. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t health risks with vaping. Plus, if young people get hooked, the chances of them smoking in later life is much higher. The issue is that this ‘95% safer than smoking’ tagline has been harnessed by vaping companies as a selling tool. Disposable vapes are seen as ‘safe smoking alternatives’, rather than what they actually are: still nicotine. In Australia, these particular devices are only available on prescription, rather than sold in every corner shop in the country. In addition, these devices have severe environmental problems. Around 5 million disposable vapes are thrown away every week – most not taken to the correct recycling facilities. When McKean found his own 13-year old son vaping at home, he said that:
“It feels like we have put all our eggs in one basket and said ‘this is the way to tackle cigarette smoking’ and I feel we have neglected children and young people… (My son is) addicted to vaping and the more I looked into it the more I realised he is not alone. I asked him why he does it and he says because it gives him a buzz, and that’s how these addictions start.”
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced that the government is ready to crack down on youth vape use. For too long now, it has been left unnoticed that these colourful and flavoursome devices have been designed to appeal to young people. Whether this is intentional or not, that’s up to the reader. But things need to change. Let’s see if they do.