Youth vaping: Fresh issues response
Fresh the North East regional tobacco programme has responded to important calls to reduce the appeal and availability of vaping to children. But it has also warned of the importance of ensuring adult smokers are not deterred or restricted from switching to quit tobacco – still the UK’s biggest killer and cause of cancer.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: “We recognise there are legitimate concerns about children trying vaping and the sale, advertising, marketing and display of these products to minors is often highly inappropriate and we support moves to give children more protection.
“However, we are closely monitoring youth vaping and while there has been an increase in experimentation (trying once or twice) of children trying it, regular vaping remains low and positively youth tobacco smoking is at an all-time low.
“Tobacco is by far our biggest killer and cause of cancer – an addiction which kills up to 2 out of 3 smokers and the North East has seen the highest rates of death and disease. That is why we must continue to give adults who smoke every chance to quit – whether that is through vaping, NRT or local support and ensure they are not scared off an option which could be lifesaving.
“There have been some calls nationally to ban disposable vapes but in our view and the view of many others who see the harm from smoking, this would be a step too far at this stage. Disposable vapes are easier to use for older and more vulnerable people and those with mental health conditions as they don’t require refilling and recharging, making them a useful if not potentially lifesaving aid to quitting for smokers.
“We are also calling on the government not to forget its publicised ambition to deliver a Smokefree 2030. All the evidence shows that the stronger regulations are to reduce smoking, the lower the youth smoking rates.”
Dr Ruth Sharrock is a Respiratory Consultant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead leading on lung cancer and the Clinical Lead for Tobacco Dependency for the North East & North Cumbria Integrated Care System.
She said: “For me as a doctor, being able to encourage smokers to switch to vaping is important to help some to stop smoking. I see patients suffering and unfortunately dying every day, from diseases such as COPD and lung cancer which are caused by smoking. Tobacco will kill up to 2 in 3 smokers early and those risks are even higher for heavier smokers who started when young.
“Helping smokers to escape the life-threatening harms of tobacco is an absolutely critical intervention and can’t be supported soon enough. We also have excellent, evidence-based knowledge on the harm reduction switching to e-cigarettes brings.
“It is right that we monitor vapes for safety but that work is already underway and although vaping is not risk free, vapes do not produce the toxic and carcinogenic tar and carbon monoxide which make smoking so lethal. Smokers smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar.”
Amanda Healy, Association of Directors of Public Health North East Chair, said: “We definitely need to reduce the number of young people accessing vape products and the amount of non-compliant products available for sale and we are working closely with our colleagues in Trading Standards to support compliance with regulations and take enforcement action when necessary. We also recognise vaping is a helpful tool for quitting so, at the same time as continuing to advocate for tighter regulations to reduce youth vaping”.
The 2023 ASH survey of children find that among children aged 11-17:
- Youth smoking rates remain low – 3.6% of children aged 11-17 smoke.
- No significant change between 2022 and 2023 in the proportion of 11-17 year olds currently vaping – 7.6%.
- Trying vaping once or twice is up by 50% among children 11-17 on last year.
- Corner shops are the main source of purchase and child awareness of instore promotion has grown significantly since last year.
- Around 11.6% of young people have tried vaping once or twice, compared to 7.7% in 2022.
Action on Smoking and Health has published recommendations to the government for four high impact interventions based on the latest evidence around vaping and access among youths showing a rise in trying vaping once or twice. Fresh supports these. These include:
- Putting a specific tax on disposable vapes of £5.
- Reinstating funding for anti-smoking campaigns promoting vaping as the most effective quitting aid available for adult smokers.
- Prohibit instore promotion of e-cigarettes with exemptions for age restricted specialist vape shops.
- Prohibit e-cig branding which appeals to children.