Reports indicate a significant rise in underage vap[ing since 2021/22
The evidence suggests that these young people are particularly drawn to disposable vapes because of their colours, flavours and trendy status:There is evidence that these youngsters do not understand the risks they are taking
Thankfully authorities like ASH have compiled many resources to help parents and schools tackle the issue
There has been no avoiding the headlines still appearing now since 2022, when it was first flagged that the disposable vaping boom was capturing the attention of under 18s.
The whole point of vaping is to act as an alternative to smoking which, according to Public Health England, presents 95% less harm. It was certainly never intended to be adopted by those who have never smoked or vaped previously, and especially by anybody who is underage.
While the study highlights that 83% of 11-17 year olds surveyed had never tried vaping, the number of those who have has risen from 11% in 2021 to 15% in 2022, one of the most sudden increases since vaping rose to popularity circa 2010-14. Of that 15%, ASH found that 52% were using disposables vs only 7% in 2021.
The timing of this rise coincides with disposable vapes hitting UK shelves, and evidence from multiple sources, not least school confiscations has linked underage use with the compact, single-use devices.
Other than the obvious issues with under 18s consuming nicotine, below we will explore the main risks to teens from disposable vapes. If you are a parent concerned about your child vaping using disposables, it is important to understand the impact they could be having.
Disposable Vape Flavours are Tempting
Even in 2021 as disposable vapes were just beginning to pick up steam, the UK Gov’s 2021 E-Cigarette Evidence Review highlighted that young people vaping reported their main reason for picking up the habit as “liking the flavours”.
The same report noted that:
“Fruit flavours were the most popular among current vapers. This was followed by menthol/mint, then ‘chocolate/dessert/sweet/candy’ flavours.”
Disposable vape ranges are typically comprised of massive selections of just these kinds of flavours, fruits, fruit ices, desserts and generally overly (vs most normal vape liquid) sweet/candied profiles that recreate a number of confectionary items and beyond. It would be a fair assumption to say these kinds of flavours would appeal more to children than adults, and the data we have seen to date (above) seems to support this theory.
Disposable Vapes are Deceptively Smooth
In a Trading Standards & Vaping Industry Panel on Disposables it was stated that there is a growing fear over 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.
Part of the reason for this misconception is likely down to the nicotine salt e-liquid used in disposables. This is a newer type of e-liquid which uses nicotine with a neutralised taste. This neutral taste means that, vs standard vape juice using ‘freebase’ nicotine (the more common variety), they taste incredibly smooth even at the highest permitted strengths.
With the aforementioned Government data from 2022 highlighting a number of harm perception issues in both adults and youngsters, the fact the products themselves are designed to be more easily consumed adds an extra element of risk – the smoothness masks the strength and therefore the addiction potential in the wrong hands.
Children are Buying Disposable Vapes Illegally
Within the 2022 UK Gov e-cigarette evidence review we can also see some concerning data regarding where underage vapers are getting their hands on disposables:
“Disposable models (which are pre-filled with liquid and used only once) were the most popular type of vaping device in the 2022 ASH-Y survey. These were used by 52.8% of 11 to 18 year olds who currently vaped.”
“Although it is illegal to sell vaping products to under 18 year olds, many young people under the age of 18 bought and owned their own vaping devices. In the 2021 ASH-Y survey, just under a quarter (24.8%) of young people aged 11 to 17 said that they were given products by friends. But others also reported buying them, for example:
1% said they bought them from newsagents
1% said they bought them online
3% said they bought them from a supermarket”
In another study covered by the report, 16 and 17 year olds were asked about their vaping habits, which revealed a shocking 64% of them confirmed owning their own vaping product.
It’s Hard to Spot an Illegal & Unsafe Disposable Vape
One of the biggest risks to underage vapers is the fact that disposables in particular have suffered from illegal imports flooding the market. These are not necessarily counterfeits either, instead being from the brands UK consumers instantly recognise, but being intended for a market such as the USA or China where restrictions are far more relaxed.
This has led to a lucrative market where UK consumers, youth included, are getting their hands on devices that could:
Contain over the legal limit of nicotine e-liquid
Contain over the 20mg/ml nicotine cap (being as high as 50mg)
Have not been subjected to any safety checks or quality controls in-line with UK law
As a parent, or possibly educator the problem can seem very difficult to tackle. Experts agree that education is a big factor in helping young people actually understand the risks they are exposing themselves to. This also goes for adults, we cannot explain a problem to a young person without first understanding it ourselves, which is why we hope this content is helpful!
For further support and guidance, visit the ASH website. They have a whole host of information designed to educate and help guide parents, teachers and even entire educational authorities to tackle the problem and develop effective vaping policies.
Our resident vaping expert with nearly a decade of industry experience. From working on the shop floor, bottling, picking and packing vaping products for customers, to designing and formulating e-liquids in the lab, there isn't much about vaping that Ollie doesn't know. His expertise, knowledge and insight into the industry make Ollie the go-to for reliable and trustworthy industry info.