Children’s doctors call for an outright ban on disposable e-cigarettes

Disposable e-cigarette products such as Elf bars, Geek bars and Lost Marys are now the top choice for children and young people.
Many vapes scattered on a pink background

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is urging the UK Government to implement an outright ban on disposable e-cigarette products due to their disproportionate use among children and young people and their detrimental impact on the environment. The College has long campaigned for the Government to take action on children smoking and in recent years on their growing use of e-cigarettes. Alarming data from NHS Digital shows the number of young people vaping has once again increased, with one in five 15-year-olds using e-cigarettes in 2021, Action on Smoking (ASH) data also shows that experimental use of e-cigarettes among 11–17-year-olds is up a staggering 50% on last year. 

E-cigarettes are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes. Experts agree that we need longer-term data on the effects of using e-cigarettes, particularly in regards to cardiovascular disease. However, since e-cigarettes have only been on sale in the UK since 2007, long-term studies don’t yet exist. We have even less evidence on the long-term impacts of these products on young lungs, hearts, and brains. Paediatricians are deeply concerned about what this unprecedented rise in uptake will mean for our future generations. It took experts decades to fully understand the impact of traditional cigarettes, we cannot risk our children’s health in waiting this long again for longer term studies.  

In addition to potential health issues, we cannot ignore the serious environmental impact of disposable e-cigarettes. Currently at least 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away every week in the UK – two every second. A single-use vape also contains on average 0.15g of lithium (a limited resource) – the mining of which has led to water loss, ground destabilisation, biodiversity loss, increased salinity of rivers, contaminated soil and toxic waste. Recent coverage has also shown that disposable e-cigarettes are notoriously difficult to recycle and often cause dangerous fires in UK waste plants. Their damage cannot be overstated. 

RCPCH has responded to the Governments’s call for evidence on youth vaping. The consultation was a welcome step forward to understand the scope and scale of e-cigarette use among children and young people, but a consultation alone is not enough – real and measurable change must now urgently follow.  

RCPCH VP for Policy and Paediatric Respiratory Consultant Dr Mike McKean said:

Without a doubt, disposable e-cigarettes should be banned. There is absolutely no reason that these cheap, readily available, brightly coloured, recreational products should be single use. Youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children, and I fear that if action is not taken, we will find ourselves sleep walking into a crisis. Westminster’s approach to this problem is out of step with even our closest neighbours, with countries such as Scotland, France, Germany, and Ireland all seriously considering a ban. 

I have worked as a respiratory consultant for 21 years, so it is not lost on me that smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and disease in the UK. Cigarettes are the one legal consumer product that if used as recommended by the manufacturer will kill most of their users. We know this because we have 60+ years of research and data on cigarette use on a population level. But the research and data around widespread e-cigarette use is still very much in its infancy. We simply don’t know enough.

What we do know is that these products are not risk free, are likely to be damaging for developing young lungs and are also terrible for our environment. This is a lose, lose situation. The Government in Westminster has the responsibility and capability to make a choice that will have far reaching consequences, potentially for generations to come. Their call for evidence signifies a willingness to look at current data – but once this process is completed the Government will have to decide whether to look away, or to take meaningful action. It’s time to prioritise our children and our planet – it’s time to ban disposables. 

President of the British Paediatric Respiratory Society, Dr Julian Legg, said: 

The British Paediatric Respiratory Society (BPRS) stands firmly in support of RCPCH’s call for an outright ban on disposable e-cigarettes. As an organisation dedicated to the health and well-being of children, we share the concerns raised by the RCPCH regarding the disproportionate use of disposable e-cigarette products among children and young people, as well as their detrimental impact on the environment. 

While significant research and data exist on the population-level effects of cigarette use, the same cannot be said for widespread e-cigarette use. The chemicals within these products can be directly harmful to the lungs and the full effects of these toxicities are unlikely to be known for many years. By the time the full adverse effects are apparent it may be too late to reverse respiratory complications. 

The BPRS urges the UK Government to prioritize the health of our children and the preservation of the environment by heeding the call for an outright ban on disposable e-cigarettes. 

Libby Peake, Head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said:

Disposable vapes are the last thing our children and the planet need. They waste resources that are critical to the green transition – like lithium needed for the batteries that power electric cars. They’re extremely harmful when littered, because their batteries are a fire risk and the plastic and nicotine they contain are hazardous. And recycling them will always be labour-intensive and expensive. Current proposals to end free giveaways to children, restrict marketing and enforce insufficient regulations are laughably inadequate given the scale of the problems created by disposable vapes.