disposable vape lost mary elfbar vaping GettyImages-1491209517

Source: Getty Images

The Local Government Association is calling for a ban on disposable vapes by 2024. I wanted to reflect on why this sort of ‘solution’ is a clickbait contribution to the debate on vaping.

The UK government, and the majority of the public health community, sees vaping as a force for good in reducing smoking levels. There is no doubt the proportion of people who smoke has fallen even more quickly as the vaping market has grown – especially with the rise of disposable vapes.

At the same time, there are also significant challenges related to this market. We’re seeing vapes that breach regulations with too much nicotine or ‘puffs’, access by young people, and disposable vapes being discarded wastefully and riskily – even though they contain flammable lithium batteries. It’s absolutely right these important issues are discussed, and more regulation is likely to form part of the solution.

The common sticking point, however, is enforcement. Shops – including but not solely convenience stores – and online businesses are flagrantly selling vapes that contravene product standards. Try to report these, and the response from Trading Standards departments is usually nothing. Rogue retailers know they can sell illegal vapes and almost certainly not get caught or face any sanctions, so they carry on doing it. 

The same businesses are probably selling vapes to under-18s as well, given there is little or no enforcement of these rules either. So how on earth do we think rules banning disposable vapes would be enforced? 

The irony is, it’s the same group of people who are failing to enforce existing rules – local councils – who are calling for this new intervention. It suggests the LGA thinks once the products are banned, they will simply disappear off the face of the earth never to be seen again. In a market that has developed this quickly, all a knee-jerk ban would actually do is stop the legitimate supply of vapes and provide a massive boost to those who are already ignoring regulations. If there is any group of people who should know how hard it is to enforce rules like this, it should be local authority officers.

Then, on the issue of recylcling, it would be far better to involve everyone in the industry in the recovery and recycling of these products, and actually enforce those rules. Convenience stores are going to have to play their part and bear some costs if we are going to see a step-change. 

Councils have a difficult job to do with tight resources and lots of vital services to deliver. The right response to this challenge is to work with industry and consumers to find solutions that will make a meaningful difference to recycling rates, achieved in a way that reduces the risk of accidental fires and recovers more of the materials contained in these products. 

When local authorities dream up blunt policies for clicks, I’m afraid they open themselves up to challenges on their inadequate enforcement of the current rules. They need to own their role in the problem and engage in proper solutions.