Expert Panel Discuss Disposable Vape Problems

/ 8 min read

Expert Panel Discuss Disposable Vape Problems

It’s no secret that disposable vaping devices have made plenty of waves since taking the UK by storm in 2021. Rapidly becoming one of the most aggressively debated subjects in vaping, the compact devices have become fast favourites with consumers. Despite this popularity, disposables have brought more than their fair share of problems to the table.

Disposable Vapes So Far

You can explore our other blogs to learn about disposables in more detail – we have been tracking the trend since it began. To summarize quickly, disposable vapes are small, single-use, brightly coloured e-cigarettes which come pre-filled with 2ml of 20mg nic salt e-liquid. They cannot be recharged, and no parts can be interchanged – they are an all-in-one design intended to be thrown away when used up. Typical disposable devices should be no more than 20mg in strength, and on average should deliver around 500-600 puffs. They are almost always brightly coloured with funky designs and come in a vast array of flavours.

The main issues with disposables are:

  • Youth Access – this is the most pressing concern. Children across the country are being found to have been illegally sold disposable vapes from many locations including corner shops. The colourful designs and sweet flavours have also been identified as appealing to children.

  • Illegal Devices – because they have become so popular so fast, retailers have been falling victim to rogue suppliers providing unregistered, illegal disposable devices which contain more than double the legal nicotine and e-liquid limit and have not been subject to TPD safety tests.

  • Environmental Damagethe sheer number of the devices being sold and used combined with the non-recyclable materials they are made from including dense plastics, lithium batteries and nicotine containing residue, equals vaping’s biggest blow to the environment to-date.

  • False Economy many users report disappointment at the fact that either the liquid is used before the battery dies or the battery dies before the liquid can be fully vaped – in either case they feel short-changed. Many others feel they are cheap because they only cost around £5 for a device that can last up to two days in most cases. The reality is that this is almost twice as expensive as using more traditional, refillable vaping devices.

Industry Expert Panel Tackles Disposable Vape Questions

As the trend has grown so too has the awareness of these issues, particularly those around youth access and public safety at the hands of illegal untested devices. Trading standards has been carrying out a major sting operation across the country to combat this, with raids starting in Glasgow wholesale warehouses as well as Lancashire further south.

Despite this action change has been minor and agents are struggling against a tide of unaware or uncooperative retailers and suppliers who seem set on ignoring the law in favour of the large profits the devices offer. In response a recent webinar saw a panel of industry experts discuss the issues and how to tackle them, the public were invited to challenge them with questions and the panel has shone some light on the state of play for UK authorities on the disposables market.

Panel Members

  • Damian Stevens – Vaping industry business veteran
  • Edward Swain – Managing Director, Vape Superstore
  • Tony Allen – CEO, Age Check Certification Scheme
  • Murray Perkins – Regulation and Government Policy Consultant (Youth Access Prevention Committee member)
  • John Dunne – Director General, UKVIA (United Kingdom Vaping Industry Association)

The panels focus was:

‘How the prevalence of disposable vaping products has affected the industry, and how compliance is playing an increasingly important role’

The panel made the following comments in response to the questions raised during their discussion:

  • Authorities have pledged to ramp up action against illegal, non-compliant disposable vapes at the border. Preventing import where possible and ring-fencing any examples that do arrive in the UK before they have a chance to reach retailers and the general public.

  • It was agreed that industry fines are currently far lower than is necessary to be an effective deterrent - £2500 being the maximum currently for carrying illegal stock or selling to minors. Profits from disposables nullify the threat of such low fines, it was suggested that they be raised to £10,000 minimum fine for retailers repeatedly selling illegal devices or making underage sales.

  • It has been noted that disposable device confiscations across the country have ramped up massively in schools and anywhere young people frequent. The youth access issue is now very real, and authorities on the panel fear that the national perception is behind the curve of reality.

  • Social media, particularly TikTok has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of youth uptake, with some platforms allowing unregulated promotion of disposables by influencers who have a primarily 11–17-year-old audience. A recent ASH study found that 45% of 11–17-year-olds said they saw disposable vapes on TikTok before deciding to try them.

  • The disposables category has grown commercially by 600% since November 2021, although the minimal impact felt by traditional vaping products suggests these consumers are an entirely new group who have never vaped before – and evidence is mounting that these are primarily younger people.

  • Among adult users there is a pattern emerging that supports the false economy issue in that low-income and new vapers alike are trying vaping with disposables before moving on to longer-lasting solutions in the vape category. These people cited the cost as their main motivation.

  • Despite the above point, 45% of the 10,000 people asked before the panel was held, said they will now only use disposables purely because of the convenience, regardless of these people already having devices at home, and being fully aware of the false economy.

  • There was a suggestion to increase fines for illegal practices three times separately over the next twelve months.

  • Licensing was suggested as a potential way to combat the flood of illegal devices, but the panel debated this but ultimately stated this would be too complicated to establish quickly as the disposables in the market were ‘a long way off falling within licensable parameters’.

  • There is a growing fear at the misconception of nicotine strengths by youngsters, who when asked, stated they perceive the ‘2%’ nicotine level of most disposables to be low. In reality this equates to 20mg, and is the highest nicotine strength permissible by UK law – the equivalent of 50 cigarettes.

  • There was a call for more responsibility from manufacturers who panel members felt should be actively curtailing the designs they offer to help reduce appeal to younger people.

  • Youngsters are not looking at the cost as a deterrent, as they think they’re cheaper than a pack of cigarettes (average £10-£15) because a disposable is circa £5. Despite the fact that they represent one of the least economical ways to vape.

  • UK now seeing similar trends to those felt in the US 3 years ago, when an illness (EVALI/Lung Disease) was blamed on vaping, making people worry over the dangers of using vaping products. Disposables have rekindled this fear with a spate of health concerns caused by illegal high-strength, unregulated disposables being abused by those who may never even have smoked, particularly the young. Oral health has been a focus on Socials, as well as accounts of more serious respiratory illness.

  • Some countries have already made restrictions on flavours and stop producing them. The US in particular is stepping up its controls on flavourings and synthetic nicotine. Synthetic nicotine was a loophole exploited by manufacturers selling into the US. New laws banned the sale of flavoured vapes that contain natural nicotine, causing many to switch to a synthetic alternative not bound by the laws. Regulations are now catching up to this too, however. There are concerns over the risks of synthetic nic, and some fear that it is being used in disposables in the UK without being advertised as such.

  • It was suggested by some of the panel, that there is a growing fear of parents resorting to buying vapes for their children, as they have already accessed disposables without their input and have found themselves with an addiction they cannot manage. Not wanting them to turn to tobacco, giving them vaping products has been there only solution as they are too young to qualify for Stop Smoking Services.

We Asked Our Own Question

We asked the panel why confiscation wasn't being used to strengthen the deterrent against underage sale and carrying illegal disposable stock, as fines by themselves can be easily mitigated by the additional profits made selling the devices anyway.

In a very lacklustre answer, it was explained by the panel that due to Trading Standards having in some cases only one agent serving a massive area, it is very hard for them to police anything they have been talking about effectively. In addition, they said even if they confiscated the devices, they don't actually know what to do with them, to process them safely.

We felt this was a little underwhelming in the face of such a major youth access issue, especially considering the fact there is literally a machine that can process and separate the components of items like disposables for safe disposal. It was felt that they just don't take the issue seriously enough to consider investing in a proper solution. Increased manpower, funding and a significant shift in priorities evidently needs to be secured before we will see Trading Standards take a more proactive approach beyond the raids we have seen to-date.