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Vaping: What UK Parents Need to Know

Most people in the UK will have noticed headlines circulating in the last two years about a sudden rise in youth vaping. This will undoubtedly raise alarm bells for parents, with many stories circulating about vapes being confiscated in schools, and growing fears of the damage vaping products could do in young hands.

Leading UK vaping retailer LiQuid has nearly a decade of industry experience. Here, the company’s experts share what they know about the current youth vaping issue, to help parents understand and react appropriately if they are concerned their child may be vaping.

The Dangers of Disposable Vapes

Concerns about the youth vaping issue have arisen as a result of the sudden rise in popularity of disposable vaping devices. Many industry stakeholders have suggested that the bright colours, sweet flavours and designs of these single-use vapes could attract underage users, and studies into the phenomenon seem to bear this out.

Disposable vapes are one of the most likely ways your child may be exposed to vaping. The small, brightly coloured devices are currently viewed as a trend by many young people and, as such, are highly sought-after status symbols for under-18s.

A collection of colourful disposable vape pens

It has been noted in multiple surveys that in some areas of Britain, as many as one in five 15-year-olds have tried or regularly use disposable vapes specifically – with few to none reporting that they vape with reusable devices and bottled e-liquid.

Because of this high demand, several illegal and untested models of disposable vape have hit UK shelves. These products are often imported from other countries, and are not legal under the Tobacco Products Directive or the UK’s Tobacco and Related Products Regulations , rules that enforce safety standards for all vaping products before they can be sold. As a result, these illegal vapes are not being tested against UK standards, so consumers cannot know what is inside them.

Key Points for Parents

There are a few aspects of disposable vape packaging that may be misleading, so it is wise to take note of this when purchasing a product. We will explain those here, and identify some things to look out for as a parent who is concerned their child may be vaping.

Young teen boy vaping in bedroom whilst studying

Nicotine salt e-liquid is deceptive

All disposables on the market contain a special kind of e-liquid called nic salts. When manufactured, the nicotine used is combined with a natural acid. This neutralises its naturally harsh alkaline pH, which is the reason nicotine has a throat hit.

Because the pH has been made neutral, it allows for even the highest strengths permitted by law (20mg of nicotine – the most common strength for disposable vapes) to be vaped easily, even by someone young who otherwise would find such a strength unpalatable.

When combined with the sweet and fruity flavours available, youngsters could be inhaling a substance that is as sweet and smooth as a confectionery, without understanding the dangers of consuming a highly addictive substance.

Of 11-19 year olds surveyed in the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation Project Youth Tobacco and Vaping survey in 2021, 52.5% said they felt addicted to vaping, with severity ranging from ‘a little’ to ‘very’ addicted.

2% is not a low nicotine strength

Because most disposable vapes describe their nicotine content as 2% on their box, we have seen anecdotal records of children attempting to excuse being caught with one by arguing it is only 2% - seemingly low.

In reality, this 2% is equivalent to the more severe sounding 20mg – the maximum amount permitted by UK law. The smooth nic salt e-liquid masks this strength, which only contributes to the misconception. In fact, a 2% disposable vape that delivers 500-600 puffs is delivering the same amount of nicotine as around 50 cigarettes.

Young teen vaping outside creating a vape cloud

Underage sale is a big problem UK-wide

With the exception of a small few who report being given devices by friends or older teens, many children are buying these devices for themselves.

A 2021 study conducted reveals data regarding where children have been accessing disposable vaping products. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) carried out a youth survey of 11 to 18-year-olds, while the ITC authority led a similar youth study of those aged 16 to 19 who had vaped in the past 30 days.

Just under a quarter (24.8%) of the 11–17-year-olds said they were given vapes by friends. The majority report that they bought a device themselves:

  • 22.1% of the youths surveyed said they bought them from newsagents.

  • 22.1% said they bought them online.

  • 16.1% reported buying a disposable vape from a big supermarket.

In the ITC youth survey, it was revealed that among 16-19-year-olds:

  • 64.3% reported owning their own vaping product.

  • 37.5% reported being given vapes.

  • 32.1% bought them in shops.

  • 23.3% bought them online.

A group of friends vaping outside sitting on park benches

Speak Up

If you are worried about your children vaping, whether at home, at school or out and about with their friends, speak up and don’t be afraid to ask questions – you are not alone. Millions of households in the UK are dealing with this challenge, and there is help and guidance out there that can support parents to prevent their children from vaping.

Action on Smoking and Health has recently produced special guidance to help schools properly develop anti-vaping policies, to protect and educate pupils and teachers alike. Speak to your child’s school about this and ensure they are doing everything they can in line with this new guidance to keep your children safe and vape-free.

GUEST POST BY: Hannah Spelman


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