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This briefing covers the advertising, marketing and promotion of vaping products in England. It outlines current restrictions under both the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPRs) and the Advertising Codes and their enforcement. It also considers calls for tighter regulation and recent government initiatives. However, this briefing does not include any assessment of the health arguments for and against the use of vaping products.

Health policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, the UK Government said it is committed to working closely with the devolved administrations as it develops proposals to tighten the regulation of vaping products. It hopes to align policy approaches where this would improve outcomes and continue “ongoing collective action” to tackle youth vaping across all parts of the UK.

What are vaping products and how many adults use vapes?

Vaping products are e-cigarettes and e-liquids. They work by heating a solution of water, flavouring, propylene glycol, and, typically, nicotine to create a vapour that the user inhales. Using an e-cigarette is described as “vaping” rather than smoking. E-cigarettes are usually used to help people quit smoking tobacco, they can be reusable or disposable.

Vapes are now a commonplace consumer product. According to a series of independent reports on vaping commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities in the Department of Health and Social Care, the prevalence of adults using nicotine vapes in England in 2021 was between 6.9% and 7.1% (depending on the survey), which equates to between 3.1 and 3.2 million adults. The popularity of disposable nicotine vapes has significantly increased, with 15.2% of adults who vape using them in 2022 compared with 2.2% in 2021. However, refillable tank type products remain the most popular vaping devices, used by 64.3% of adult vapers in 2022.

How are vaping products regulated?

There have been significant regulatory changes related to the sale  of vapes. On 20 May 2016, the TRPRs implemented the Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU) (PDF) into UK law.

The TRPRs (now retained EU law) impose product standards for nicotine vapes. These include restrictions on maximum nicotine strength, refill bottle and tank size limits, and packaging (including a mandatory health warning). Importantly, the Regulations prohibit in certain media the advertising of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and e-liquids sold as consumer goods (ie vapes  not licensed with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency).

The TRPRs do not apply to vapes that do not contain nicotine. These are covered by the General Products Safety Regulations 2005. As with other consumer products, suppliers of e-cigarettes and e-liquids must ensure that only safe products are placed on the market, together with any necessary warnings for the safe use of the product.

Advertising, marketing and promotion

This increase in the use of vaping products has been matched by a growth in advertising, marketing and promotion. Brightly coloured packaging is used to promote branded vapes in shop displays and a wide range of e-liquid flavours are available, such as chocolate, cheesecake and fizzy drink flavoured vapes.

In addition to the TRPRs, rules on the advertising, marketing and promotion of vaping products are set also out in the Advertising Codes, both the Non-broadcast CAP Code and the Broadcast BCAP Code. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent regulator, has responsibility for ensuring adverts across UK media comply with the Codes.

Various organisations, including the Local Government Association which represents councils in England and Wales, are calling for vaping products to be sold in plain packaging and kept out-of-sight behind the counter.

Health and environmental considerations

There is ongoing public debate among health professionals, charities, manufacturers and businesses about the potential benefits and risks of using vaping products.

There is a wide range of views, from those who underline the importance of vapes as a less harmful alternative to tobacco and as a tool to help people to quit smoking, to those who raise concerns about the increasing number of children who use nicotine vapes and the unknown long-term harm to their health and the risk of addiction. Others have warned that the rise in single use disposable vapes is causing environmental damage.

Reducing vaping by children and young people

It is an offence to sell nicotine vapes to people aged under 18. However, a survey by the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) on the use of e-cigarettes among young people in Great Britain, found that in March/April 2023, the proportion of children experimenting with vaping had grown by 50% year on year, from one in 13 to one in nine. Children’s awareness of the marketing of vapes has also grown. More than half of all children reported seeing vapes promoted in shops, and nearly a third reported seeing promotions online. According to ASH, only one in five children now say they have never seen vapes promoted, down from 31% in 2022.

There is also concern that children are accessing illegal vapes. Some illegal vapes have been found to contain high levels of lead, nickel and chromium.

Government action

On 11 April 2023, the Government launched a call for evidence  to help identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vaping products, while ensuring they are still easily available to help  adults to quit smoking.

In June 2023, the Health and Social Care Committee examined options to restrict children’s access to vapes, such as banning products that use flavours or bright coloured packaging and better enforcement of the age restriction on nicotine vape sales. Price increases were also considered.

On 4 October 2023, the Government published a policy paper, Stopping the start: our new plan to create a smokefree generation. This was followed by the publication of a consultation paper on 20 October 2023, Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping: your views. To reduce youth vaping, the Government sought views on the following proposals: 

  • restricting vape flavours
  • regulating vape packaging and product presentation
  • regulating point of sale displays
  • restricting the sale of disposable vapes
  • introducing an age restriction for non-nicotine vapes
  • preventing industry giving out free samples of vapes to children

The Government believes these proposals form “a suite of measures that will work together to reduce the various ways that vapes appeal to children”. The Government is currently considering responses to the consultation.

In the King’s Speech on 7 November 2023, the Government announced its intention to introduce a tobacco and vapes bill. This bill would raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products by one year each year, to phase out cigarette smoking, and restrict the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes.

Further research from the Commons Library

Further Library research is available on the tobacco and vaping hub.

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