Rishi Sunak declares war on UK's kid vaping epidemic

Rishi Sunak declares war on UK’s kid vaping epidemic: PM hints he will ban predatory marketing tactics blamed for ‘alarming’ rise in children hooked on e-cigs

  • The PM said the Government will crackdown on the marketing of vapes to kids
  • Shock data last month revealed the number of child vapers rose 50% in a year 

Rishi Sunak has declared war on vapes, hinting that he will ban the predatory marketing tactics blamed for the ‘alarming’ rise in children hooked on the devices. 

The Prime Minister said the marketing of vapes to youngsters, through cartoon characters, fruity flavours, and bright colours, is ‘completely unacceptable’.

Ministers have also pledged to close a loophole allowing retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England – which vape industry heads themselves have said ‘no self-respecting business should ever have considered exploiting’.

The move comes days after the PM expressed concern about his own daughters potentially being ‘seduced’ by e-cigarettes.

And shock data earlier this month revealed that the number of kids who’ve tried vaping has jumped 50 per cent in a year, as experts warn Britain is ‘sleepwalking into an existential crisis for children’.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty visit a lab testing vaping products at Kent Scientific Services in West Malling, Kent

Electronic vaping devices are displayed on a table during a visit of Britain’s Prime Minister to Kent Scientific Services

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty called the decision to close the loophole a ‘very welcome step’ in light of the ‘worrying rise’ in child vapers. 

The Government said that there will also be a review into banning retailers selling ‘nicotine-free’ vapes to under-18s.

The rules on issuing fines to shops that illegally sell vapes to children will also be reviewed, which the Government said could make it easier for local trading standards officials to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices.

Earlier this month Action on Smoking and Health’s (ASH) annual poll revealed that a record 11.6 per cent of 11-17 year-olds in Britain have now tried vaping. 

This is up on 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as rates seen a decade ago — before the UK’s kid vaping epidemic blew up.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak admits he’s scared his daughters, 12 and 10, will get hooked on vapes because of the ‘ridiculous’ marketing tactics used to lure kids in 


The PM said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about this rapid rise. 

Speaking this morning at a lab in Kent, he told broadcasters the Government may take further action and ‘change how we regulate the market and promotion of vapes’, in order to tackle the crisis. 

‘Our new illicit vape enforcement squad – backed by £3 million – is on the case but clearly there is more to do,’ he said.

‘That is why I am taking further action today to clamp down on rogue firms who unlawfully target our children with these products.’

Mr Sunak added: ‘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.’

Asked whether he would enact an outright ban on the marketing of vapes to children, he said: ‘As we have seen here today at this lab, there are a range of products which are clearly not designed for adults. 

‘They are designed to appeal to children in the way that they are marketed, promoted, the flavours they use.’

Pictures of the vapes tested at the Kent lab included several marketed with cartoon characters in bright colours. One was also made to look like a sippy cup. 

Shock data last week revealed a record 11.6 per cent of 11-17 year olds in Britain have now tried vaping. This is up on 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as rates seen a decade ago — before the UK’s kid vaping epidemic blew up

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, centre, and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, second right, at Kent Scientific Services – where vapes are being tested

Electronic vaping devices packed on a plastic bag are pictured during a visit of Britain’s Prime Minister to Kent Scientific Services, beside testing equipment

Sir Whitty, who joined Sunak at the lab, said: ‘Whilst 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 said that closing the loophole tackles some of the harms caused by the vaping industry and added that while we should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping health-wise, there needs to be a crackdown on the marketing and sale of vapes to children.

The Government measures will also see the health risks of vaping included in Relationships, Sex and Health Education lessons, as part of the ongoing government review of the curriculum.

Dedicated police school liaison officers will also work to keep illegal vapes out of schools.

READ MORE: Inside Britain’s child vaping epidemic: Our horrifying investigation exposes predatory tactics of sweet shops selling e-cigs, vibrant ‘dupes’ made to resemble Skittles and Jolly Ranchers… and the kids left scarred for life 

It follows the creation of the ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ earlier this year.

Health minister Neil O’Brien called any marketing of vaping products to children ‘shameful’.

He said the Government would ‘review the rules on issuing on-the-spot fines to shops that break the law by selling vapes to underage youngsters, and look into banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to under-18s – which we know can be a gateway to using nicotine products’.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, called the announcement a ‘baby step’.

‘We have to act now to stop a new generation of kids getting hooked on nicotine,’ the Labour MP said.

‘But the Conservatives voted down Labour’s plan to ban the marketing of vapes to children. This new announcement is a baby step when we need urgent action now.

‘The next Labour government will come down like a tonne of bricks on those pushing vapes to kids.’

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health, said the proposals were welcome but were ‘not the tough action that’s needed’.

She said the announcement needed to be followed by ‘more detailed action’.

‘The most important immediate step the Government could take now is to put a tax on the cheap disposables which are the vape of choice for children, as well as being bad for the environment,’ she said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak observes as a test is made on vaping products during a visit to Kent Scientific Services

Tests on e-cigarettes confiscated from youngsters found they contained dangerous levels of lead, nickel and chromium. Some were almost 10 times above safe limits. Exposure to lead can impair brain development, while the other two metals can trigger blood clotting

Brightly-coloured ‘highlighter vapes’, sold in child-friendly flavours like bubble gum and strawberry, contained 12 micrograms of lead per gram. This is 2.4-times the stipulated safe exposure level. The gadgets, which can cost as little as £5 and are sold in shops across the country, were also over 9.6 times the safe level of nickel and 6.6 times the safe level of chromium

Vape industry figured have also welcomed the Government proposals.

Gillian Golden, chief executive of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, said: ‘The loophole allowing free samples to be distributed regardless of consumer age 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.

‘We believe that Government, regulators, and industry can collectively take action to reduce the access and appeal of vaping to those underage, including by restricting the sale and marketing of vapes to this group.’

The Prime Minister also said he was ‘shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of schoolchildren’. 

Tests on e-cigarettes confiscated from youngsters found they contained dangerous levels of lead, nickel and chromium. Some were almost 10 times above safe limits. 

Exposure to lead can impair brain development, while the other two metals can trigger blood clotting. 

David Lawson, co-founder of Inter Scientific — the lab that analysed 18 different e-cigs — said: ‘In 15 years of testing, I have never seen lead in a device.

‘None of these should be on the market — they break all the rules on permitted levels of metal. They are the worst set of results I’ve ever seen.’

Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes 

How much nicotine is in an e-cigarette?

There are many different brands of e-cigarettes, containing various different nicotine levels.

The legal amount of nicotine in an e-liquid capacity in the UK is 20mg/ml equating to between 600 and 800 puffs.

The Elf Bar 600, one of Britain’s most popular vapes, is advertised as coming in nicotine strengths of 0mg, 10mg and 20mg. 

How many cigarettes are ‘in’ an e-cigarette? 

The Elf Bar 600 contains the equivalent to 48 cigarettes, analysts say. 

It delivers 600 puffs before it needs to be thrown away, meaning, in theory, every 12.5 puffs equate to one cigarette.

Experts say for many e-cigarettes, 100 puffs equate to ten normal cigarettes. 

Elf Bars are a brand of e-cigarettes often sold in snazzy colours and with child-friendly names and flavours, like blue razz lemonade and green gummy bear

Is vaping better for your health than cigarettes?

Vaping products are considered to be better than cigarettes as users are exposed to fewer toxins and at lower levels, according to the NHS.

The health service adds that vaping instead of smoking cigarettes reduces your exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease and diseases of the heart and circulation, such as strokes and heart attacks. 

Public Health England, which is now defunct, published an expert independent review in 2015 concluding that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.

However vaping is not risk-free, as while levels in tobacco-products are much higher, e-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.

And Dr Onkar Mudhar, a London dentist who posts videos on TikTok, said Elf bars can cause gum inflammation, swelling and bleeding.

He said this is because nicotine dries out your mouth and reduces saliva, causing irritation from a build-up of bacteria and food that can’t get washed away.

Nearly 350 hospitalisations due to vaping were logged in England in 2022, which are thought to be mainly down to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, lung inflammation and, in severe cases, respiratory failure. 

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