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#AceBreakingNews – A loophole allowing retailers to give free vape samples to children is set to be closed under government plans to curb their use among young people
A new crackdown on vape marketing would prevent the “unacceptable” targeting of children and teens, Rishi Sunak said.
There will also be a review into the rules around the sale of “nicotine-free” products to under-18s.
Labour called the announcement a “baby step” and said urgent action is needed.
A recent BBC investigation found that illegal vapes confiscated from school pupils contained far higher levels of lead, nickel and chromium than deemed safe. The prime minister said he was shocked by this finding.
There is now a fast-moving debate on how to tackle vaping by children.
The government plans include a review of rules on fines for shops selling illicit vapes.
By tightening the law, it said it would be easier for local trading standards officials to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices to shops who sell vapes to under-age people.
The plans have been welcomed by the UK Vaping Industry Association, which said it had been calling for a clampdown for over a year.
Its director general, John Dunne, said: “Unless unscrupulous traders know that selling vapes to children is an endeavour which would be financially ruinous to them, then they will continue to do so.”
Some vapes have been found to contain unsafe levels of metals, including lead, nickel and chromium
There has been a rise in experimental vaping among 11- to 17-year-olds – from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023, according to a YouGov survey in March and April, for Action on Smoking and Health.
Two out of five young people said they had smoked vapes “just to give it a try” and one in five because “other people use them, so I join in”.
Brightly coloured disposable vapes, which are available in a variety of flavours, are the most popular product among teens and most are bought from corner shops.
Teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the increased availability of the products and the fact that some pupils say they have become addicted to nicotine through vaping.
Under the law, only the sale of nicotine products to people under 18 is banned – but some companies are giving away free samples.
In the past year, thousands of children in the UK were given a free vape, according to data from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).
Last week, the prime minister spoke about his concern about the rise in vape use among younger people, telling ITV’s This Morning he did not want his daughters “seduced by these things”.
He said it was “ridiculous” vapes were promoted to children, and pledged to look at ways of strengthening marketing rules.
Announcing the new set of measures aimed at limiting under-age vaping, he said he was “deeply concerned” about an increase in children vaping and was “shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of schoolchildren”.
“The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good,” he said.
An analysis of vapes used in schools showed children using them could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead, and nine times the safe amount of nickel.
The UK government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, called the decision to close the loophole a “very welcome step”.
He said vaping was a good alternative for adult smokers, but raised concerns about companies “clearly marketing these products at children”.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said vaping was far less harmful than smoking for children but the longer terms risks were not full understood.
She told BBC Breakfast:
” We do know there are toxins and carcinogens in vape products, albeit at lower or trace levels, and if those are exposed to young developing lungs, particularly chronically over a long period, there may well be real risk associated with that.”
The latest announcement comes just weeks after ministers unveiled a new enforcement drive and called for evidence on what further steps to take. Mr Sunak’s intervention suggests he feels the need to go further.
Pupils will also be taught about the health risks of vaping in Relationships, Sex and Health Education lessons, as part of the ongoing government review of the curriculum.
And a resource pack for schools on vaping is being developed, which will be rolled out online in July.
Intended for children aged 11-13, the educational resource will inform young people about the addictiveness of nicotine and the evidence that their developing brains may be more sensitive to its effects.
The move follows the government establishing a vape-enforcement squad last month to increase education around the dangers of vaping in schools, as well as school police liaison officers to remove e-cigarettes.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien called any marketing of vaping products to children “shameful”, and said the government would further review the rules to prevent them becoming a “gateway” to cigarettes.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the government had not backed the party’s plan to tackle the problem, and pledged the “next Labour government will come down like a tonne of bricks on those pushing vapes to kids”.
The Chartered Trading Institute, which oversees trading standards in the UK, said it welcomes the government’s announcement, and that the measures “were necessary”.
Campaigners are already arguing that it needs a bolder approach with taxation to make vapes less affordable, while continuing to promote them as an option for adult smokers wanting to quit the habit.
Deborah Arnott, Ash chief executive, welcomed the government’s actions but said the prime minister’s proposals were just “baby steps”, and called for a minimum price of £5 to be imposed in order to price out young buyers.
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