Vapes should be taxed and displayed in plain packaging behind the counter to reduce their popularity among children, health campaigners and councils have warned.
To tackle the rapidly growing popularity among children and young people, Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) is calling on Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, to set out a £4 excise tax on single disposable vapes on top of the usual £4.99 price.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is also requesting action, urging ministers to tighten regulation on the display and marketing of vaping products to match tobacco.
Ash chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said the government should tighten regulation and increase enforcement because vaping is “not risk free”, despite being less harmful than smoking.
She said: “Children who vape mainly use cheap disposables, which can be bought for under a fiver. Making them less affordable by adding a specific tax for single-use disposable vapes in the March budget would be a simple first step, reducing child vaping and the vast quantities of single-use vapes being thrown into landfill.”
Ash data shows that 8.6% of 11- to 18-year-olds in England vaped in 2022, compared with 4% in 2021. The campaigners stressed that any regulatory changes should not deter adults from using vapes to help them quit smoking.
The LGA said its members had stepped up enforcement to deal with growing numbers of shops selling vapes to children despite the 18 age limit, with many “especially concerned” by child-friendly marketing, including colourful packaging and fruity and bubble gum flavours.
It wants ministers to require vaping packaging to mirror tobacco – in plain designs and be kept out of sight behind the counterIt is also calling for the introduction of mandatory age-of-sale signage, a ban on free samples and tougher penalties for stores which do not comply.
A recent survey from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute suggested high street shops selling illicit vapes or vaping products to children was the biggest enforcement issue, with teams reporting a significant rise in underage sales last year.
David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “It is not right that stores are able to prominently display vaping paraphernalia for all to see, such as in a shop window, often in bright, colourful packaging that can appeal to children.
“Vapes should only be used as an aid to quit smoking. While research has shown vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking, it is deeply worrying that more and more children – who have never smoked – are starting vaping.”
Ash also recommended tighter regulation on marketing, including banning cartoon characters and bright colours on packs; product names or descriptors associated with sweets, for example gummy bears; and “light up” vapes that glow in the dark. It further suggested mandatory age verification for anyone who looks under 25.
John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute said that there was a “wild west” for retailers selling vapes, and that many are “routinely breaking the law”. He suggested a registration scheme for businesses selling vapes would build a clearer picture.