This vape ban sees Sunak throwing another dead cat onto a table already piled high with finished felinesVaping 360 / Flickr /

In late January, Rishi Sunak cowered away from serious health policy once again as he announced a “ban on disposable vapes” if he wins the election. The PM demonstrated his incisive oratory, commenting that “children shouldn’t be vaping”. Well, duh. But really, is this the biggest public health problem we face? And are his motives altruistic and in favour of preserving children’s health? Or is this just a moral scare, part of the culture wars he’s waged since he began his premiership? Here’s why the proposed policy won’t work, and why it shows a complete ignorance of the real public health problems affecting kids.

Kids just don’t smoke anymore. Instead, underage nicotine users now prefer a fruity-flavoured, and probably healthier alternative: disposable vapes. Often slammed for being marketed towards kids (really, what pack-a-day smoker is choosing a ‘unicorn shake’ flavoured nic stick?), vapes have taken over the playground and the uni hall alike. Discreet tabs behind Asda are hardly seen anymore. Now, it’s all about Elf Bars in the bathroom. They’re certainly advantageous for keeping it on the DL in schools, as vapes’ fruity scent rids kids of the need to coat themselves in Victoria’s Secret or LYNX Africa before going back into Maths.

“Since when has a ban on anything used by kids and teens ever worked?”

But is this trend really as much of a crisis as it’s marketed to be? Anything keeping kids away from smoking, once the leading cause of preventable UK deaths, should surely be celebrated. Though the long-term health risks are as-yet unknown, it can be safely said that vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes. Sunak’s decision to ban vapes comes at a time when distraction from his other vacuous policies is necessary for his political survival. The Conservatives, in competing with Labour over the tactically-important elderly and middle-class votes, have identified an issue – vaping – which is notoriously hated by parents and old people (for the former because they want their kids away from nicotine, and for the latter presumably because of the dratted smell, mess, and moral repugnance they associate with teenagers… I mean, vapes!).

I’m not denying the importance of protecting children from themselves. It’s undeniable that children shouldn’t be pushed into what can become a lifelong addiction by unscrupulous Big Tobacco copycats like JUUL and Elf Bar. But since when has a ban on anything used by kids and teens ever worked? We’re possibly the most resistant demographic to rules and regulations, by virtue of our hormonal need to act out. Anyway, most of the vapes seen in the clutches of Year 7 are illegal already. Those hulking, iridescent tubes clutched in tiny hands are often of the 6000+ puff [20ml liquid] variety, well over the 600 puff [2ml liquid] restriction already in place. Corner shops where underage vapers get their fix are difficult to genuinely keep tabs on. My local shop keeps the banned ELUX bars behind the counter to avoid suspicion and a possible search.

The popularity of vapes isn’t going to just go away when a ban is implemented. What’s more likely is that more unregulated and dangerous products will be smuggled in, and lapped up in the place of the safer, government-regulated alternatives now available. There have been lung conditions and diseases found in America related specifically to unregulated vapes containing Vitamin E acetate. That’s certainly not present in a legal Elf Bar, but anything goes in the illegal vapes most used by the underage. One BBC investigation tested vapes found in a school, and discovered lead, nickel and chromium. These were not the legal vapes currently on offer in supermarkets, but the imported high-liquid monsters which can hold over 2000 puffs – both better value for pocket money, and more convenient for kids hiding their habit.

“This vape ban sees Sunak throwing another dead cat onto a table already piled high with finished felines”

There’s no doubt that British children need help. With one in nine children now living with a disability following the pandemic, serious health policy is required to avoid a generation plagued with lifelong poor health. Obesity, a preventable health condition, is a crisis caused by an era of unregulated ultra processed food products, which, thanks in part to rampant junk food advertising targeted at kids, have become a staple of British children’s diets. If Sunak or Starmer continue their radio silence on children’s poor health, and keep announcing nicely-packaged yet poorly-justified policies instead, then this problem will only get worse.


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Ultimately, this ban does not merely show a pathetic attempt by the government to distract from their policy vacuum and win over the elderly and parents’ vote. It also demonstrates warped priorities in terms of children’s health. This vape ban sees Sunak throwing another dead cat onto a table already piled high with finished felines. He needs to act now if he wants to prevent a generation suffering from lifelong poor health, but he needs to start with the real, difficult, unpopular issue facing more kids than ever – and that is obesity. It seems ridiculous that in a country where one in four Year Six children are overweight or obese, our politicians are focusing on flavoured air.

Sunak knows it, the NHS stats prove it, and children need it.