Dial Turned Up on Disposables

Aberdeen Council has announced that a plan to ban cash sales of disposable vapes, restricting them to card-only instore purchases. At a wider level, Scotland’s First Minister welcomed minsters back to Parliament with a promise to “take action” on single-use ecigs. Coming in the same week as a report documented a quadrupling of disposables being dumped instead of recycled and a Bill presented to UK MPs to crack down on advertising and marketing – could we be entering the end times for a product previously welcomed as a godsend for smokers?

disposable vape pensSingle-use Vapes are hitting the news

A study released last week by recycling group Material Focus shows that the last year saw a fourfold growth in the number of vapes being tossed away instead of being recycled. The number now hits a staggering 5 million ecigs per week that are ending up on pavements, bins and even being flushed down toilets!

Scott Butler, executive director of the group told journalists that the volume of dumped vapes far outstrips those being treated properly and is a major cause for concern. He said the industry’s approach and the facilities to enable components to be reused is “a long way from what we need.”

Politicians are acutely aware of this backdrop.

What is Aberdeen Doing With Disposable Ecigs?

Aberdeen Council, Trading Standards officers and the police have become exasperated by retailers continuing to sell to Under-18s. Despite trying to convince rogue traders to abide by the law, they found that many were happy to do illegal under-the-counter cash sales.

So, the council is encouraging shops to sign up to a charter, committing the store owners to only taking card payments for single-use vape sales in the hope that this will prevent teens from handing over notes to adults to make purchases for them.

Officials are hoping that teens are reluctant to hand over their bank cards to strangers – although this still doesn’t prevent an adult from accepting money and using their card.

What has First Minister Humza Yousaf Promised?

First Minister Humza Yousaf welcomed MSPs back to the Scottish Parliament by announcing “The Programme for Government”, published every September and setting out what the governing party plans on doing over the following twelve months.

In his speech, the First Minister’s said: “Talking of children, Presiding Officer, I hear too often about how common vaping is amongst our young people. In the next year, we will take action to reduce vaping and particularly amongst children.

“The government will also consult on curbing the sale of disposable single use vapes, including consulting on an outright ban.”

Rather than follow the lead being taken on tobacco harm reduction from London, Scotland is veering ever closer to the stance adopted in continental Europe. France announced its intention to ban disposable vapes altogether and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne also intimated that flavours and packaging could be in her sights too.

Belgium, Germany and Ireland have already taken a range of measures to clampdown on signle-use electronic cigarettes.

How did retailers respond to Scotland’s plan?

The Association of Convenience Stores responded to the announcement in measured fashion. Accusation chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome a consultation on preventing young people from accessing vaping products and addressing their environmental impact. The vaping category has grown significantly over the past few years and convenience stores across Scotland are committed to the responsible sale of these products.

“More enforcement action and clearer regulation of the vaping market is needed, but a sweeping ban on single-use vapes would be an overaction to a category that can play a positive role in meeting Scotland’s 2034 tobacco-free targets.”

The Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed) was more concerned, warning of a ban doing nothing more but fuelling a black market. Scotland’s Fed president Hussan Lal said: “Banning disposable vapes will simply expand an already booming illicit market.

“Vapes help many give up smoking and are part of life now.  I am confident the black market will become even more active.  These illicit products are already on sale at car boot sales, mobile phone shops, cafes and tanning salons as well as via the internet and by dealers delivering direct to homes.

“Rather than looking to ban single use vapes, the government should be looking at responsible ways of recycling them and more educational campaigns.”

Does this mean the end for disposable vapes?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to see a future for them – something retail trade magazine The Grocer said following a call to the UK government to ban from the Local Government Association last month. It placed most of the blame on the manufacturers’ shoulders for failing to act swiftly enough on environmental sustainability and teen sale concerns.

Even Action on Smoking and Health (who have been calling for stricter regulation for disposables) has cautioned against an outright ban.

It is possible a third way will come, one that pleases nobody, as exemplified by an opinion piece in The Times by Hugo Rifkind. He says that rather than an all-out ban, single-use ecigs should just be made “boring”.

There’s really no need for them to be bright pink and watermelon-flavoured,” he wrote. He argues that the UK should ban flavours, bright cartoonish packaging, and names linked to sweets.

It is an opinion that will find fertile ground among those pushing for bans, but at what cost? Flavours have proved to be vital in encouraging adult smokers to make the switch with few of them vaping menthol or tobacco flavoured products once they had fully transitioned. Could an unintended consequence of restricting the range of products be the equivalent of a complete ban? Would it discourage adult tobacco users?

One thing is certain, the debate over disposable vapes is set to heat up as we head towards 2024.

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