The U.K. emphasis on creating a smokefree generation may be misguided considering that regular underage smoking has already reached an all-time low, according to critics.
The government is actively pursuing its plan to create a tobacco-free generation through the introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, presented in the King’s Speech to Parliament on Nov. 7. This initiative, revealed in October, is particularly contentious as it proposes a complete prohibition on legal access to cigarettes for individuals under the age of 15. In addition to this, the bill introduces the possibility of implementing new taxes and restrictions on vaping, signaling an effort to combat youth vaping.
The government’s strategy involves a multifaceted approach, including a public consultation on youth vaping launched on Oct. 12. This consultation is open to U.K. residents of all ages, encouraging input from “teenagers, parents, teachers, medical professionals, academic experts and others” until Dec. 6. The overarching goal is to address youth vaping while still supporting adults in their efforts to quit smoking.
Writing in Filter, Kiran Sidhu spoke to several tobacco harm reduction advocates, some of whom suggested the government should prioritize reducing adult smoking, especially in economically disadvantaged communities where smoking rates are higher.
One of the key points of contention in the proposed bill is the potential ban on disposable vapes. While some advocate for such a ban, citing environmental concerns and youth use, others argue that it may have unintended consequences. Disposable vapes are favored by adults seeking to quit smoking due to their accessibility, ease of use and lower cost. A ban on disposables could disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups and potentially slow down the overall decline in smoking rates.
The government’s public consultation has garnered mixed responses on social media, with some perceiving it as a response to public outcry over a perceived youth-vaping crisis. Skepticism exists regarding the impact assessment process, with concerns that it may selectively support proposed restrictions while disregarding opposing views.
Amidst the debate, the director of an online vape retailer emphasizes the importance of responsible regulation. He suggests that listening to the experiences and insights of vapers, alongside input from scientists and professionals working with smokers, will lead to sensible regulations that prioritize harm reduction.
Previously hailed as a global example of successful tobacco harm reduction through vaping, the U.K. must now find a balance between addressing youth vaping, environmental impact and supporting adults in their journey to quit smoking. The outcome of the public consultation will significantly shape the future regulatory landscape for tobacco and vaping products in the U.K.