Calls for a ban on disposable vapes are growing, and it’s easy to see why.
Most of us have seen a disposable device carelessly thrown onto the side of a road - not to mention the headlines telling us about the millions being binned every week.
Disposables have also been blamed by many for an increase in youth vaping.
They’re not good for users either. Despite their obvious convenience, they are expensive and lack the flexibility of refillable devices which can be used with thousands of different flavours.
It’s not hard to understand why there are calls for bans on these devices, yet a knee-jerk reaction is not always the best one. I’ve covered the case against disposables on this blog before, but it’s also worth considering why an immediate ban might not be the best option, what to do instead and, if a ban is put in place, the best way to implement it.
Three reasons not to ban disposable vapes
Banning disposables won’t mean they disappear
Trading Standards estimate that a third of disposable vape devices sold in the UK are illegal.
This is indicative of how poor legislation can backfire and cause unintended consequences.
Back in 2017, based on a misreading of the science on nicotine, the EU ruled there could be a maximum of 2ml e-liquid in a tank and that e-liquid could contain a maximum of 20mg (2%) nicotine.
When disposables became popular, the black market responded by creating devices containing more e-liquid and, sometimes, more nicotine.
Needless to say, these black market sellers don’t take part in recycling schemes. They don’t care about following regulations - or whether they sell to children. They don’t give a fig for the safety and quality of their e-liquid - and tests have shown the quality and safety of black market liquid and devices is far below that of legitimate devices which have to undergo stringent emissions testing.
In short, there is a big, bad black market waiting in the wings and praying for a ban on disposable vapes.
A ban will hurt smokers
For all their bad points, disposable vape devices are an incredibly easy entry into vaping, often helping smokers who have previously tried and failed to switch from smoking to e-cigarettes.
Not all would-be vapers will resort to purchasing black market disposables.
Despite the massive decline in smoking rates we’ve seen over the past 15 years, cigarettes still kill 76,000 people a year. Every one of those people is a father, a mother, a friend or a child who could often have enjoyed years more of quality life with their loved ones. Taking away one of the easiest options for smokers to transition away from cigarettes is cruel.
Disposables are needed for a sub-group of smokers
As anti-smoking group Fresh has pointed out, there are always likely to be some smokers who need disposable devices.
Some older people, as well as those with disabilities or mental illnesses, have struggled to use refillable or rechargeable devices.
While we shouldn’t stop our efforts to switch these people to reusable devices, it’s important that they retain access to easy-to-use devices.
Alternatives to a ban
Rechargeable, refillable devices have so many benefits over disposables. They are cheaper, create far less waste and are easier to recycle. They also often offer a better vaping experience.
We’ve persuaded thousands of customers to switch from disposables to reusables, and I know other vape businesses have done the same. I even know of one which has calculated the average time their customers use a disposable device before switching to a reusable one (11 weeks).
However, not everyone buys from a dedicated vape shop - and most non-vape retail stores do not usually have the knowledge or time to advise vapers.
Instead of an immediate ban, an alternative would be to run a public health campaign to encourage people to switch from disposable to reusable devices. This would need to emphasise the existence of viable alternatives to disposable devices which are comparably easy to use and are less harmful to the environment.
Require devices to be designed for recycling
Disposable devices don’t have to be difficult to recycle. I’ve seen several examples with an easy-to-remove battery, where the outer material is designed to be reused or recycled.
Unfortunately, none of these options have taken off. Still, I think there’s a strong case for some thoughtful government intervention here, working with trade bodies to create sensible regulations to increase ease of recycling while maintaining the qualities that make disposable devices attractive to smokers.
Enforce existing regulations
There are rules in place which forbid the selling of vapes to children, and regulations which ensure the quality of legal vape devices. It’s a continual source of frustration to the legitimate industry that there are still websites and stores selling illegal vapes without age verification and that shops reported for flouting regulations still continue to operate.
That’s not to knock Trading Standards - given their resources, they are doing their best.
However, if we are to make a dent in underage selling and illegal vapes, and we don’t pursue a licensing option, we need more resources for enforcement AND stricter penalties for companies that repeatedly and deliberately break the rules.
How to implement a ban
If a ban is implemented, it’s key that enough time is given for existing disposable users to switch over to a reusable device.
Smokers and vapers need to be consulted to find out how to minimise harm to public health, and the industry needs to be given enough time to innovate in order to create new, reusable devices which appeal to disposable users.
The ban would need to be preceded by a public health campaign to persuade disposable users to try reusable devices, accompanied by a massive crackdown on the irresponsible individuals seeking to undermine the massive health benefits vaping can bring in return for a quick profit.
It’s easy to see why there is a call for a ban on disposable devices.
Disposables do represent a problem and a challenge, and it’s something we need to deal with.
From a political point of view, a ban is likely to garner plenty of support, making it an easy win for parties who want a popularity boost.
However, countries like Australia which have implemented a ban (or partial ban) on vaping products have shown it doesn’t solve problems. In reality, it can often make problems worse.
“If the legitimate industry is banned, then there will be no mechanism to deal with all the operational challenges and costs of illegally sold vapes which have the same challenges.”
A more nuanced policy may be a harder sell, but it’s also the right option for both smokers and the environment.