By John Dunne, Director General, UK Vaping Industry Association.
This week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made one of his most important speeches of the year at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. In this speech, he put smoking in the spotlight and highlighted that the Government will be looking into the vaping industry as well. An extensive policy document was released by the Government, highlighting that a consultation is forthcoming following the recently conducted Youth Vaping Call for Evidence. This consultation will rest on five key policy proposals, many of which align with previously established UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) positions.
Restricting vape flavours
Flavours have long been in the spotlight as a way that vaping companies can try to appeal to children. However, as the UKVIA has repeatedly illustrated to the Government, flavours are a key reason why smokers are willing to make the switch to considerably less harmful vapes. Our own research conducted amongst 2,000 vapers earlier this year revealed that 1 in 3 vapers feared a ban would lead them back to conventional cigarettes, which could be close to 1.5m former smokers. The consultation will examine the role of flavours, and I welcome the comment that “to avoid unintended consequences on youth and adult smoking rates, the scope of restrictions will need to be carefully considered.”
Regulating point of sale displays
We are all concerned by stories that children are seeing vapes at accessible points in stores, sometimes close to sweets and confectionery products, and deciding that they wish to give these products a go. This is why I am very pleased to see the Government is looking at regulating point of sale displays to ensure that they are not located close to products that could tempt a child’s attention. The Government is absolutely correct, however, when they say that “we do not want it (restrictions) to inhibit those who currently smoke from accessing vapes as a quit aid, so they must remain visible.” Therefore, it is important that vapes remain accessible in-store for adults and are not sold behind counters otherwise they will be conflated with conventional cigarettes. Our association has long since called for a licensing scheme for vape retailers, and meeting future display regulations should be a crucial requirement for any retailer wishing to gain a license.
Regulating vape packaging and product presentation
The UKVIA has always pushed for tighter packaging and product presentation of vape products, and like many, I am appalled when I see products using cartoon characters and child-attracting images. This is why we published our own packaging guidelines a number of years ago and presented these to government to adopt. However, plain packaging is not the solution, and it is good to see the Government recognise that many mod or tank vape devices are already generally marketed appropriately. I am looking forward to working with Government officials to help strike the right balance.
Restricting the sale of disposable vaping products
Banning disposable vapes is not the answer for many reasons. In the Government’s analysis of the Call for Evidence submissions, they noted that these are important products, “particularly for older users, people with dexterity issues, or those with learning disabilities, because they are easier to use than refillable products.” These products also represent an easy way for people from lower socio-economic circumstances to switch to a less harmful alternative, as well as an accessible entry point for any smoker who wants to see if vaping is for them. It’s why they are one of the main reasons that the number of adult smokers in Great Britain have hit record lows for the last two years according to the Office for National Statistics.
Enforcement is the key in dealing with youth vaping. New research by one of our members Arcus Compliance has revealed that fines handed out to retailers for underage and illicit product sales amounted to just over £2,000 in 11 major provincial UK cities between 2021-23. The UKVIA has proposed to government on more than one occasion fines of up to £10,000 per instance for rogue retailers caught selling to U18s, as well as retail licensing and national test purchasing schemes.
Finally, there is also overwhelming evidence that vape bans lead to black markets in the sale of such products and increased smoking rates, putting smokers and vapers at significantly more risk of harm across the world. The black market already exists in the UK and represents over 50% of the single use market and this would only accelerate with a ban.
The UKVIA strongly believes that non-nicotine vapes should be subject to the same product standards and age restrictions as other vaping devices. I am very pleased to see that the Government will “introduce legislation to prohibit the sale of non-nicotine vapes to under-18s as a first step to protect children.” We look forward to seeing what other restrictions the Government may consider proposing for this product category when the consultation is released.
Throughout the consultation process that will now follow, the UKVIA will be actively consulting with the vaping industry and engaging with Government and the public health community to ensure that any policies introduced are practical, effective, proportionate and above all supportive of the Government’s ambition for a smokefree generation.