No more free vapes for kids: Rishi Sunak unveils recent crackdown on illegal vapes

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published May 31, 2023 at 12:25 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

No more free vapes for kids is the latest government procedure aiming to crack down on rogue firms targeting children with free vaping samples.

School playgrounds are increasingly looking like scenes out of dystopian novels, with teenagers gathered in secret corners, clutching their sleek, nicotine-filled devices. Who needs traditional hobbies when you’ve got your handy Juul or Elf bar, huh?

Vaping-obsessed gen Zers and gen Alphas have finally flagged the attention of the UK government. According to the BBC, a raid in January 2023 saw a staggering 6,575 disposable vapes with pointedly excessive nicotine confiscated. The goal was allegedly to try and increase the sweet flavouring within the vape, thereby making them more addictive.

Moreover, according to the NHS, 2021 showed that 9 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds used e-cigarettes, up from 6 per cent in 2018. Selling vapes to under-18s is illegal, however, it is clear from this recent rise in teenage usage of vapes and the recent surge in the use and promotion of cheap, colourful products that businesses are targeting children, which has prompted the recent action to crack down on this.

The lack of regulations within the vaping industry has resulted in the proliferation of unsafe products—many of which are being targeted directly at children. While a 14-year-old might be put off by the picture of contaminated lungs on a packet of cigarettes, they’re unlikely to shy away from the ombre mini vape which tastes like strawberries and fits perfectly in their backpack front pocket. The problem is, who knows what hidden surprises await once you’ve actually become attached to your new nicotine buddy?

BBC News, for example, conducted an investigation where it gathered a number of vapes from school pupils and found that children using them could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead, and nine times the safe amount of nickel. Some of the vapes also contained harmful chemicals like those in cigarette smoke. High levels of lead exposure in children can affect the central nervous system and brain development.

One particular concern raised in the investigation was that some of the vapes were in fact legally available, while other illegal vapes were disguised as ‘highlighter pens’ that contained ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Another important aspect was the flavourings, the most obvious ones being e-juices with buttery notes, like custards and other sweet desserts.

Reacting to these recent findings, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, announced on Tuesday 30 May that a loophole allowing retailers to give free vape samples to children will be closed, under new government plans to curb their use among young people. Sunak stated: “It brought home the challenges that we are facing. What your reporting also showed is that there are very harmful toxins coming into the supply chain of vapes, and that’s something we must clamp down on.”

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty reaffirmed the Prime Minister’s thoughts, noting: “Closing the loophole that allows companies to give out free samples of vaping products to under-18s is a very welcome step in tackling some of the harms caused by the vaping industry.”

This is an issue that’s been on the government’s agenda for some time now. On Tuesday 11 April, it was reported that Health Minister Neil O’Brien would be expected to announce a new illicit vapes enforcement squad, backed by £3 million of government funding, to enforce the rules on vaping and tackle illicit vapes and underage sales. This, alongside Sunak’s crackdown, shows how serious the issue has become. There will also be dedicated school police liaison officers assigned to keep illegal vapes out of schools.

A few months ago, I caught my younger brother, who’s 16 years old, stealthily puffing away in his room, surrounded by a cloud of smoke that smelled like a tropical paradise. My immediate reaction was confusion mixed with concern and it got me thinking.

As teenagers, one of the toughest challenges we face is finding ourselves. It’s like going on a quest to discover who we really are, what we truly love, and where we fit in the world. And let’s be honest, it’s not always easy. We’re bombarded with pressures to conform, to be cool, to fit in, and sometimes, that can lead to feeling lost or insecure.

That’s where vaping comes in amongst the youngest ones. For some, it becomes a way to gain acceptance and find a sense of belonging. When everyone around you is puffing away, it’s hard not to feel the pressure to join in.

Consequently, we can see that with the rise of vaping, a similar pattern of advertising and promotion has emerged, reminiscent of early commercialisation of the cigarette throughout the 20th century.

The Mad Men age of advertising was nothing like the glossy, computer generated posters we have today.  Imagine  a billboard adorned with dapper gentlemen puffing away cheerfully,all while text at the bottom read that smoking was the secret to eternal charm and sophistication. Did I mention that ads used to say that smoking was actually good for your health? Yep.

But then, like a plot twist in a suspense novel, the truth unfolded. Suddenly, doctors and scientists started waving their research findings in the air. Turns out, smoking was bad for you. Like really, really bad.

Today, the wonderland of vaping offers you a wide array of products, each claiming to be the safest alternative to old-fashioned, boring cigarettes. Not only do you get your nicotine fix, but there’s an endless list of flavours to choose from to suit your tastes too. Vaping, and the use of e-cigarettes, are often marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. It’s like stepping into a twisted carnival of flavours and nicotine strengths, all begging for your attention… Reminds you of something?

It is important for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with vaping and to make informed decisions about our health. Seeking reliable information from credible sources and consulting healthcare professionals can help in understanding the potential cons of vaping and what alternative might work best for you.

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