The Government would be right to impose a ban on the sale of disposable vapes - Jayne Dowle

I hope that reports that the government is about to impose a ban on the sale of disposable e-cigarettes, commonly known as ‘vapes’, turn into reality. It’s about time this scourge on our streets (and in schools) was brought into line.

France announced a ban on disposable vapes last week, and the Scottish government plans to follow the French example.

Is the Department of Health brave enough to follow suit? Parents, teachers and medical professionals certainly hope so.

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I’ve heard the argument, and witnessed it too with friends, that vaping is a useful option for people wishing to give up smoking tobacco.

E-cigarettes have increased in popularity with even young people taking up vaping. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA WireE-cigarettes have increased in popularity with even young people taking up vaping. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
E-cigarettes have increased in popularity with even young people taking up vaping. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

However, the counter-arguments are stronger; vaping is far too common amongst young people - even primary school children, who can be seen regularly walking through school gates having a morning puff - and it’s an environmental disaster.

Every week, in the UK alone, it’s reported that an estimated five million vapes are thrown away. Each one includes a lithium battery, and these account for roughly a third of all batteries that end up in our rubbish bins, adding to the terrifying toll on the precious natural world when it comes to responsible recycling.

Vaping also sets in motion addictive behaviours that may well turn out to transfer towards other, more lethal addictions as children grow older. As any addiction specialist will tell you, it is never good to tell young people that relying on a habit-forming drug, of any kind, is acceptable. Don’t start it in the first place, then you won’t have to stop, is the mantra.

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I was reading an exchange on social media between young women the other day and they were talking about what gets them through when times are tough. “My vape,” one answered.

I felt very sad. I understand that we all sometimes need a crutch, but is sucking on a piece of plastic containing a lithium battery and ingesting some concoction of sweet-smelling ‘juice’ with a hit of nicotine really the way to achieve inner peace?

I say this as a former smoker of cigarettes. When I was young, smoking was – alas – considered ‘cool’. That’s why we did it, because lighting up conferred a certain air of sophistication, or at least we thought it did.

There really is nothing cool about vaping; as I tell my own two kids, aged 17 and 21, just why would they want to look so needy, sucking on a nasty piece of plastic? At least we had a go with the Gauloises, even though we would choke on the acrid smoke.

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Recent studies suggest that 11.16 per cent of children between 11 and 17 have tried vaping. More than a fifth of all 15-year-old girls are thought to vape regularly.

This reliance has not been helped by retailers, who line up vapes on shop counters as if they were sweets. If only vapes were as relatively harmless as a 20p mix-up.

It is a tricky balancing act, I agree. Smoking rates in the UK, particularly among children, have plunged in recent years. In 1996, the NHS estimated that 49 per cent of children had tried smoking; that figure now is 12 per cent. Among adults, a similar percentage now smoke regularly, the lowest proportion since records began.

Many adult former smokers now vape instead. Eliminating vaping altogether would almost certainly cause smoking to rise, and this does alarm health campaigners.

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Also, there is concern from some quarters that as with any proposed drugs-related legislation, ordering a ban would be a negative move, because it would simply send the practice underground.

Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, an environmental charity, is worried that a ban could lead to hard to control illegal sales and an established illegal vape market.

Still, a ban on single-use vapes would be a step in the right direction.

By all means, keep the rechargeable e-cigarettes in the fight to help adults kick the habit.

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But feasibly, the clunky style and constant need for recharging will put off children and young people – especially if they are compelled to conceal their habit from their parents.

If a ban doesn’t happen, then one thing that could and should be looked at immediately is the gaudy packaging that manufacturers know will lure in the youngest customers.

If cigarettes must now come in plain packaging and be locked behind a cabinet to prevent temptation, then surely vapes should be subject to the same strict rules. Otherwise, all this talk amounts to nothing more than hot air.