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Disposable vapes will be banned in the UK, as part of government plans to tackle the rise of youth vaping.

Single-use vapes have been “a key driver behind the alarming rise” of underage vaping, the government said, with the proportion of 11 to 17-year-old vapers using disposables increasing almost ninefold in the past two years, according to Action on Smoking & Health (ASH).

“As any parent or teacher knows, one of the most worrying trends at the moment is the rise in vaping among children, and so we must act before it becomes endemic,” said prime minister Rishi Sunak in a statement last night.

As well as the ban on disposables – the timeframes for which have not yet been shared – the government will introduce new powers to restrict flavours “which are specifically marketed at children” and ensure manufacturers produce “plainer, less visually appealing” packaging. Those powers will also allow government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and “away from products that appeal to them like sweets”.

Further, shops in England and Wales caught selling vapes to children will be at risk of receiving an ‘on the spot’ penalty from Trading Standards officers.

The measures follow a government consultation on smoking and vaping, which was launched in October last year and closed in December.

According to the government, the consultation drew “overwhelming support” for a disposables ban, with nearly 70% of responding parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and the general public supportive of the measure.

“We are in the midst of a worrying rise in young people vaping,” said health minister Andrea Leadsom. “I want to stop youth vaping in its tracks – and a ban on disposable vapes is central to that.

“Nicotine is highly addictive – and so it is completely unacceptable that children are getting their hands on these products, many of which are undeniably designed to appeal to young people. Along with tougher enforcement measures, we are making sure vapes are aimed at the people they were designed to help – adults who are quitting smoking.”

There was widespread shock and disappointment across the vaping sector last night, with a source at one major Chinese disposable brand telling The Grocer: “this really could be the death of us”.

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) – which The Grocer understands had been informing members the likelihood of a ban was 50/50 – said it was “dismayed” at the decision.

“While action to prevent youth access to vaping is critical, this move smacks more of a desperate attempt by the government to sacrifice vapers for votes ahead of the upcoming general election,” said UKVIA director general John Dunne.

“We will hold the government to account for the increased smoking rates, as well as the lives and jobs that will be lost, as a result of their shocking and ill-thought through decision today.”

Dunne added the ban would put children at greater risk by “turbocharging the black market” and “in turn, making it easier for them to access illicit and non-compliant vapes”.

The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) was similarly disappointed. “It’s simple – bans do not work,” said IBVTA chair Marcus Saxton.

“The vape industry stands ready to work with government to implement a proportionate regulatory regime, but introducing knee-jerk and unevidenced bans is not the solution.”

The disposable ban, and flavour restrictions “will have hugely damaging consequences including making it harder for smokers to quit and will push those that have quit, back into smoking” Saxton said. “Big tobacco will be rubbing its hands with glee in anticipation of possible vape bans and increasing their sales”.

The vaping category more than doubled in value in 2023 to comfortably smash the £1bn barrier. Volumes also doubled; with an additional 155.2 million units sold. The three biggest brands all primarily produce disposable devices, with leading brand ElfBar growing in value last year by 87%.

The three leading brands – ElfBar, Lost Mary and SKE – are beginning to introduce prefilled pod devices to the market. The devices are rechargeable, with users buying replacement pods. Last month, Lost Mary unveiled its Tappo pod system, with sister brand ElfBar having introduced pod system vape Elfa Pro in August last year. SKE launched an updated version of its Crystal Bar closed pod system in November. However, disposable devices make up the vast majority of their UK sales, with SKE introducing a new eco-friendly disposable range – SKE Klax – only this month.

“We support the decision of the British government and will promptly adjust our product strategy in the British market,” SKE brand manager Joanna Luo told The Grocer.

Eve Peters, director of government affairs for ElfBar in the UK, told The Grocer the company was “disappointed with the outright ban”.

“Although we strongly support the motivation to prevent children from accessing single-use vapes, we firmly believe there are more pragmatic responses than a ban,” she said.

“While established industry players in the market, including ElfBar, have made substantial efforts and demonstrated significant progress in self-regulation, it is unfortunate that the actions of bad actors have clouded this distinction, making it challenging for the public to differentiate. The proposal to ban single-use vapes will help fuel the already burgeoning illegal market.”