UK plans to ban the sale of disposable vapes


Disposable e-cigarettes are to be banned in much of the UK, according to an announcement made by PM Rishi Sunak on Monday. To introduce the sales restrictions, separate legislation must be enacted in England, Scotland and Wales, and any legislation would allow for an implementation period of at least six months. Northern Ireland officials "will consider potential legislation in future", according to a government consultation response, also issued on Monday. British media outlets including "The Guardian" and "The Independent" have reported that the ban is expected to go into effect by the end of this year or early 2025.

Although numerous British environmental groups and recycling and waste management bodies have highlighted the environmental costs and fire risks associated with the incorrect disposal of non-refillable vapes, the decision to ban the nicotine delivery devices was motivated primarily by a concern for children's health. "Disposable vapes have been a key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping, with the proportion of 11-to-17-year-old vapers using disposables increasing almost nine-fold in the last two years," said the UK government in a press statement.

In his reaction, Environment Secretary Steve Barclay underlined other potential benefits of a ban: "This historic announcement will be a powerful tool in support of our efforts to crack down on waste and boost recycling." The government also acknowledged that e-cigarette disposal is a rapidly growing problem. Along with youth consumption, the number of vapes entering the waste stream has soared from an estimated 1.3 million per week to around 5 million weekly in recent years, according to the government policy announcement.

Environmental NGO Wrap (Waste Resources & Action Programme) welcomed the announcement. "Single use vapes consume huge amounts of natural resources and contribute to plastic and electrical waste and littering. They present a fire hazard at waste facilities and use an estimated 5,000 electric vehicle batteries worth of lithium per year," said Claire Shrewsbury, Wrap's director of insights and innovation.

Local authorities see link between bin lorry fires and disposable e-cigarettes

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) likewise welcomed the government's plans, recalling the "dual devastating impact" of disposables on the environment and health. "Due to their complex material composition, disposable vapes are logistically difficult, labour intensive and expensive to recycle." NLWA was among the organisations which had previously called on the government to ban disposable vapes, citing estimates that half of the e-cigarettes purchased in the area served by the waste authority were binned or littered.

The ban was also supported by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities. The organisation cited a study by insurer Zurich Municipal noting the dramatic increase in bin lorry blazes that has coincided with the expansion in the use of disposable vapes.

A similar ban was adopted by France's Assemblée Nationale in early December, making it illegal to sell "puffs", as they are known in French, beginning in September of this year, and a similar measure became law in Belgium last year. According to comments made by EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkeviċius early last year, the European Commission was not planning any action specifically addressing e-cigarettes any time soon. Its focus was an "overarching evaluation of the legislative framework for tobacco control".

Free refillable vape programme criticised by British metal recyclers continues 

Despite the planned ban on single-use vapes, the government continues to back the "Swap to Stop" scheme, which has been criticised by the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA). As part of efforts to cut adult smoking, the programme would give almost one in five of all adult smokers in England access to a free (refillable) vape kit and behavioural support. BMRA has argued that putting more vapes, even refillable models, into circulation was hazardous given the lack of public awareness of the fire and explosion risk associated with the lithium-ion batteries they contain. Instead of a ban on disposable vapes, the recycling association has urged the government to require kerbside collections of small waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), including vapes. BMRA has also called for a national communications campaign about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.

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