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When the mist clears: the dual threat of disposable vapes

Blog post from Councillor David Fothergill, Councillor Louise Gittins and Councillor Darren Rodwell on the environmental and health impacts of disposable vapes.

Disposable vapes have become a significant trend in recent years, offering convenience and portability to users. However, the consequences of these single-use devices are alarming. This joint blog will examine the compelling environmental reasons why a ban on disposable vapes is needed, as well as highlighting why their marketing to children is utterly unacceptable.

Vaping devices have been around for a few years now, however particularly in the last couple of years we’ve seen a huge spike in the popularity of “disposable” models, with around eight of these devices thrown away every second in the UK. 

This equates to a staggering five million a week and 260 million per year.

Disposable vapes are a completely closed system vaping device, with a pre-charged single use lithium-ion battery and a pre-filled e-liquid tank. They are designed to be single use, being disposed of once they run out of charge or liquid. Lifespan varies between brands, however the majority last around 500-600 puffs. 

The improper disposal of disposable vape batteries poses a risk to both the environment and human health. Lithium-ion batteries contain hazardous materials that can leach into the soil and water. The amount of lithium that is being discarded in the products is enough to create 5,000 electric car batteries a year. For councils, as the last line of defence in retrieving these devices, there are great hazards and costs as the numbers of fires across waste processing continue to rise.

Convenience may be the number one reason why many seem unconcerned about the impact on our environment. For children and young people who want to conceal their vaping from family or friends, disposable vapes may be more attractive due to their seemingly ‘throwaway’ nature. 

In recent years, concerns have risen around the marketing strategies employed by some disposable vape manufacturers, suggesting that these products might be intentionally targeted at children. Flavours such as Cotton Candy, Gummy Bear and Rainbow Blast mimic the taste of popular sweets, making them more appealing to children and young people. 

The design of disposable vapes have raised eyebrows, as some resemble familiar everyday items, like pens or keyrings, making them easily concealable and less conspicuous, whilst others are brightly coloured, neon or glittery. 

The ease of access to disposable vapes, both online and in physical shops further compounds concerns. With minimal age verification measures in place for online purchases and some retailers not strictly enforcing age restrictions, there is a growing worry that these products are reaching underage consumers with ease. 

Children’s health experts at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), have called for an outright ban on disposable vapes after data published in May showed a 50 per cent rise in the last year in the proportion of children trying vaping. Figures show disposable vapes are the e-cigarette of choice among youngsters, with purchases of vapes mostly made from corner shops.

Schools up and down the country are increasingly taking measures to stem the rising tide of children vaping on their premises. One school in Bolton installed a vape sensor in the toilets and the alarm was activated over 100 times on the first day, and children as young as 11 were found to be vaping. Other schools have called on parents to help combat the rise in vaping. It is clear that current measures to prevent children vaping in the first place are woefully inadequate and urgent action needs to be taken to protect children’s health. 

It is positive that the Government has listened to councils and has opened a consultation into restricting the availability of vapes to children. 

However, disposable vapes are inherently unsustainable products, meaning an outright ban remains the most effective solution.

The LGA is not anti-vaping, vapes bring some positives to the table, they have undoubtedly given some people an easily accessible path away from smoking.

Disposable vapes may offer a momentary convenience, but their long-term consequences are undeniable. Earlier this month the Government took a step forward in banning many single-use plastics, a ban on disposable vapes is the next crucial step toward protecting our planet and our children. 

It's time for government to clear the air and make a change for the better.

Councillor David Fothergill, Chairman of LGA Community Wellbeing Board

Councillor Louise Gittins, Chair of LGA Children and Young People Board

Councillor Darren Rodwell, Chair of LGA Local Infrastructure and Net Zero Board