Wales Splits from UK on Vaping & Tobacco Policy

/ 5 min read

Wales Splits from UK on Vaping & Tobacco Policy

The UK government has taken an increasingly pro-vaping stance in recent years in an effort to make their ‘smokefree 2030’ goal a reality. This has come in the wake of e-liquids and vaping devices being ‘must-have’ inclusions into UK Stop Smoking Services (SSS) according to Anti-Smoking tsar Dr Javed Khan in his landmark review.

In addition to significant pressure from experts both from the private sector like Dr Khan, but also from the NHS. Over the last two years in particular we have seen A&E Vaping Trials in NHS hospitals, as well as a national rallying cry by the MHRA for vaping manufacturers to submit devices for medical licencing. The intent of the latter being to make such a device available on prescription.

Despite a significant body of evidence in favour of vaping as a cessation tool, it has not been without it’s issues. The disposable vaping boom has brought a number of old issues back to the forefront of people’s minds including illegal untested imports and Youth Access. While many people argue the tobacco harm reduction potential is worth rolling that dice, others disagree; we are now seeing this debate divide official policy.

Vaping sign

The Welsh Government Has Fears About Vaping

In contrast to the rest of the UK’s pro-vaping approach, The devolved Welsh Gov’s recently published tobacco control strategy is discouraging vaping over youth access concerns.

Like the wider UK, Wales has set it’s smoking reduction target at 5% of the adult population, to be reached by 2030. This is also in-line with the recommendations given within the Khan Report, however with a much greater focus on discouraging youth uptake.

It says it aims to “increase the proportion of teenagers and young people who remain smoke-free by reducing the uptake of smoking, whilst also discouraging the uptake of e-cigarettes or other nicotine products in teenagers and young people”.

It adds that this is in line with past emphasis on smoking prevention. “Previous work on tobacco control in Wales has focused on supporting children and young people to understand the risks and harms of tobacco and to make smoke-free the norm so that they are less likely to take up smoking in the first place,” the strategy document says.

To date, Welsh efforts in this area have seen stricter smoking bans in places where children spend much of their time including school grounds, outdoor areas of childcare venues and public amenities like parks and playgrounds. This also extends to private vehicles; if a child is present in the car it is illegal for any adult also travelling in the vehicle to smoke.

Risk Vs Reward

This is of course a marked contrast to the wider UK policy which is being shaped with harm reduction as the priority. Ministers have repeatedly emphasised the view that public health benefits outweigh the risk of youth uptake.

There is plenty of merit to this argument, as youth smoking rates have only fallen as vaping has risen. This suggests that children would be attempting to access nicotine regardless, and from that rather damning outlook the reality is that it would be safer for children to vape than smoke, albeit of course best that they never do either. It must also be recognised that disposable vaping devices have contributed significantly to the youth access issue. These devices though would have hit the market regardless of the government’s pro-vaping aspirations.

With the above in mind, introducing vapes to SSS or via prescription will make little difference to youth access, as the devices they are seeking are already available from non-medical retailers en-masse. Of course, there is much work to be done by both regulators and retailers to address the issue in stores, and other points where children are getting their hands on vapes. This has sparked a large debate within government and the vaping industry in general.

Vape in School Bag


Youth Vaping in Wales

According to the 2019/2020 School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey, around 4% of 11-16 year-olds and 9% of 15-16-year-olds in Wales identified as smokers. A recent YouGov survey has also suggested a rise in the use of vaping products among Welsh children aged 11-17, up from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales CEO Suzanne Cass said this rise was concerning and needed constant monitoring, but stressed that responses must not place barriers on people who use e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

She added: “The Welsh government is aware of this balance, as seen in its commitment to exploring e-cigarettes’ roles within smoking cessation, whilst also marking that it wishes to discourage use amongst Welsh youth.”

Much like the rest of the UK, the National Survey for Wales showed that e-cigarettes are the country’s most common tool for quitting smoking. Clive Bates, Tobacco harm reduction expert, described the current cautious Welsh vaping policy as “a bad case of setting an ambitious goal but denying the means to achieve it”. He believes the best option for cessation success is encouraging the switch to low-risk non combustibles like vapes.

He went on to say:

“The strategy ducks these options completely and somehow manages only to talk about e-cigarettes as a risk to young people and a possible pathway to smoking,”

“The Welsh government has not grasped the scale of the underway technology transition and how much could be achieved for the more disadvantaged communities in Wales, where smoking rates are highest.”

What Do You Think?

Do you think vaping has earned its place within cessation services? Or do you agree with the Welsh approach? There are certainly strong arguments on both sides of the coin, however if the nation is to achieve its tobacco harm reduction goals, a unified approach will be needed to get consistent, long-lasting results.

Until prescription vapes become a reality, check out our subscription service. It gives you the most flexible way to support your own cessation journey, while saving you plenty of time and money. If you just want to explore your options and digest some impartial information, check out our dedicated switch with EDGE area now.