Has the world of disposable vapes gone too far? Whilst these devices are offering some paramount alternative options to cigarettes, many companies are being criticised for how they market particular models.
The likes of Elf Bar and Lost Mary are two types of vapes that are being severely berated for their multiple flavours, colours, and how they are appealing to young people. The UK health secretary – Steve Barclay – is now demanding that vaporizer manufacturers must stop these devices looking and tasting like sweets. Will it happen? Will it not? Let’s find out.
What are Vaporizers?
A vaporizer, commonly referred to as a vape, is a device that heats a substance, usually a liquid or dry herb, to a temperature that produces vapour but does not reach the point of combustion. Unlike traditional methods of smoking, which involve burning materials and inhaling the resulting smoke, vaporizers work by heating the material to a temperature that releases its active compounds in the form of vapour.
Types of Vape
There are several types of vaporizers designed for different substances, and they can be broadly categorised into three main types:
E-cigarettes or Vape Pens
E-cigarettes, also known as vape pens or disposable vapes, are electronic devices designed to vaporise e-liquids containing nicotine. Vape pens are commonly used as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Dry Herb Vaporizers
Dry herb vaporizers are designed to vaporise the active compounds present in dry herbs, such as cannabis. These devices typically have a chamber where the dry herb is placed and heated.
The Disposable Vape
Disposable vapes are very popular around the world right now. In fact, in the US, the industry has an expected worth of around 8 billion by the end of 2023. In the UK, the two most prevalent brands are: Elf Bar and Lost Mary. These sorts of vapes, which can be used and then thrown away, make up around 83% of the vaping market in the UK. Meaning that the majority of vapes bought are these specific ones, and are rarely recycled. The Grocer writes:
“Throwaway vapes are a smash hit. They’ve helped the vaping category more than double its value this year to £793.2m. Elf Bar is now the most valuable e-cig brand by a considerable margin, worth £322.1m in grocery, having shifted an extra 55.8 million units.”
The original purpose of disposable vapes was to offer an alternative for cigarette smokers. Due to avoidance of combustion, vapes do not have anywhere near the same risks as cigarettes do. Cancerous toxins and carcinogens are essentially avoided. Whilst of course vapes are not 100% safe, as they still contain nicotine, the GOV UK website has estimated that they are about 95% safer than the alternative: smoking. Therefore, the growth in the market should not necessarily be seen as a negative thing, right? Well, there’s a bit of an issue.
The Allure of Vaping
There has been an unignorable phenomenon occurring in the UK and the rest of the world when it comes to these disposable vapes. The increasing prevalence of vaping among younger people has become a worrisome trend for parents, educators, and health officials alike. The UK Health Secretary, speaking from the perspective of a father, has expressed concern over the three-fold increase in vaping among children, with one in five having tried it. But why? Well, this surge is attributed to the marketing of vapes. Elf Bar and Lost Mary flood the UK shelves with almost endless flavours and colours. They are designed to mimic the appearance and flavour of sweets, making them more appealing to the younger demographic. ASH writes:
“More than half of never smokers say they vape ‘just to give it a try’ compared to a quarter of those who have ever smoked. Around one in five ever and never smokers say ‘other people do it so I join in’ while 21% of ever smokers say they vape because they ‘like the flavours’ compared to 12% of never smokers.”
As you can see, there is an issue here. Disposable vapes are currently attracting young people who would not have necessarily started smoking at all, had these devices not been on offer to them. In other words, vapes are doing the opposite of what they were designed to do. They are encouraging young people – through childish colours and flavours – to start using nicotine.
Government Response on Disposable Vapes
Barclay has decided to do something about this new-found surge of vapes bought by young people. In response to the rising trend, the government has initiated an 8-week consultation to gather public and expert opinions on how to make vaping products less attractive to those under 18 while maintaining their availability as a smoking alternative for adults. The consultation is exploring various options, including a complete ban on disposable vapes, restrictions on sales, and changes to the presentation of flavours and colours that appeal to children. Barclay said during an ITV interview:
“vaping helps smokers quit but “for people that don’t smoke, they shouldn’t vape”.
This perfectly highlights the issue. Vapes are definitely the best smoking alternative to have ever existed – especially when compared to nicotine patches and gum. However, their popularity has entered the wrong arena: the youth of today. The government’s aim is to quickly make a U-turn on this, whilst still allowing vapes to continue to offer addicted smokers a safer haven.
The Industry’s Role on Disposable Vapes
Vape manufacturers are now having to take proactive measures, by announcing plans to cease the production of brightly coloured products, opting for plain packaging, and renaming flavours to be more ‘age-appropriate’. For instance, flavours like ‘bubble gum’ or ‘rasberry fix’ would be changed for more generic and less appealing names. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also expressed a commitment to reversing the rise in youth vaping and protecting children from the long-term effects of smoking. The government’s approach may include new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines for illegal sales of vapes to minors. The Labour party has also indicated a strong stance, promising stringent action against vaping companies if they come into power.
Will It Happen?
As with all plans that oppose a powerful marketable product, the question is: will anything actually happen or will vapes continue to be sold as they are? Well, while vaping is championed as a less harmful alternative to smoking, health experts, including England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty, caution against its risks and potential for addiction. The consensus among health professionals is that vaping can be a useful tool for smokers looking to quit but should not be marketed to non-smokers, especially not to children. Rishi Sunak has shown how committed he is to hard-line anti-drug policies, so there’s no doubt that he’ll go through with his plans after this 8 week consultation. This comes pretty soon after Sunak announced he would be raising the age of smoking every year until basically the entire population would be too old to smoke. He wants to create a smoke-free generation. There’s also an environmental issue at play, with 5 million of these devices being thrown away – non-recycled – every week. Thus whether the government decides to ban or simply change the way that vapes are sold – something will certainly have to happen.
It’s almost embarrassing that disposable vapes, such as Elf Bar and Lost Mary, have been able to be sold the way they have been for this long. Anyone with a brain can quite clearly see which demographic their flavours and colours are appealing to. Some gen z’s had even started to match their outfits with their vape colour. Nonetheless, the UK now must take action and make a u-turn against the last few years. However, the key is to still remember that vapes have been offering an important alternative option for addicted smokers too, and they must still be taken into account. Let’s see what happens next.
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