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UK to block free samples of vapes for children

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Selling vapes to under-18s is illegal, but there is a loophole. The Government also said it would consider a ban on the vaping industry selling ‘nicotine-free’ devices to under-18s. Industry experts welcomed the moves.

A recent survey found that 40% of 11 to 17-year-olds smoke vapes “just to give it a try” and about 20% tried the cigarette alternatives because “other people use them”. And the latest NHS figures showed that 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds children used e-cigarettes in 2021, up from 6% in 2018.
While the sale of the devices to under-18s is not legal, the Government said it would clamp down on a loophole that allows free samples to be handed out to children.

Sunak: ‘Deeply concerned’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I am deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of school children. Our new illicit vape enforcement squad, backed by £3m, is on the case, but clearly there is more to do. That is why I am taking further action today to clamp down on rogue firms who unlawfully target our children with these products.”

The authorities did not say they were against all vaping by everyone, however.

Effective quitting tool

Chris Witty, the country’s chief medical officer, said: “While vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping. There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.”

He also said: “We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk”.

The Government also announced it would find a way to allow local Trading Standards to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices more easily to any shops that sold vapes to under-18s illegally.

Neil O’Brien, the health minister, said: “The shameful marketing of vaping products to children is leading to growing numbers trying e-cigarettes. Today we are therefore ramping up our efforts to stop kids getting hooked on vaping, including taking steps to crack down on companies handing out free vape samples to under 18s and adding lessons on the health risks of vaping within the curriculum for the first time. We will also review the rules on issuing on-the-spot fines to shops that break the law by selling vapes to underage children, and look into banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to under 18s – which we know can be a gateway to using nicotine products.

Industry support

Figures in the vaping industry supported the changes.

Gillian Golden, chief executive of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), commented: “Selling products to under-18s has been illegal for some years now, as have proxy sales. Those who ignore the law bring reputable retailers who uphold strict age verification protocols into disrepute. We welcome the planned review on bringing nicotine-free products under existing rules and we look forward to continuing to support enforcement agencies in tackling illicit trade and illegal products.”

She said that the loophole allowing free samples for children “is a gap that no self-respecting business should ever have considered exploiting.”

Joe Murillo, chief regulatory officer of Juul Labs, said: “Vapes have a role to play in helping adult smokers transition away from cigarettes, but more needs to be done to combat underage use of these products.”

Sunak was referring to the announcement last month of £3 million of funding which has been provided to create a specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ to implement the rules on vaping and tackle illicit vapes and underage sales. He also mentioned new help for schools trying to make students aware of the potential risks of vaping.

The Government concedes that some smokers find vaping helpful when they want to quit tobacco. Last month, the authorities announced a plan to offer 20% of smokers in England a vape starter kit to help them quit. For adults, vaping can also play a potential role in reducing insurance co