Coloured vapes

Source: GettyImages_Credit Lilit Amirkhanian

Imperial Brands, which owns Blu vapes, has put its weight behind the crackdown on underage vaping and called on the government to reform vape flavour names and ban packaging that deliberately appeals to under 18s.

The company claimed it had long been committed to working with policymakers to ensure that vaping products were solely used by existing adult smokers and adult nicotine users. Imperial Brands said it shared the view of the UK’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty that “we should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, while preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children”.

The firm observed that vaping has played a key role in reducing UK smoking levels to the lowest on record, with Public Health England reporting that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than normal cigarettes. It flagged up that more than half of adult vapers use disposables. The company alleged that if a ban on disposable vapes was introduced, it could easily drive some nicotine users to return to cigarette smoking and reverse the positive downward trend.

Instead of an outright ban on disposable devices, the manufacturer believes that there should be more robust enforcement of existing legislation, and greater penalties for breaches of age of sale legislation.

In particular, Imperial Brands wants to see the introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices for those selling to under 18s, and a vape retailer licensing scheme to improve compliance across the retail environment. With the threat of their licence being removed if found to be selling to under 18s, this would provide a strong deterrent for irresponsible retailers, stated the firm.

“Nothing demonstrates the need for effective regulation and stronger deterrents more starkly than the dramatic rise in the number of illicit vapes appearing on UK high streets,” said an Imperial Brands spokesperson, noting that Trading Standards have seized over 2.5 million illicit vapes in the last three years alone.

Furthermore, the company said it believed that the introduction of an excise duty on all vaping products would help fund enforcement efforts.

“While Imperial Brands welcomes government intervention into youth vaping, we disagree with the proposed generational ban on tobacco, as we believe it is unworkable and unenforceable,” said a company spokesperson. 

With the government in New Zealand announcing plans to repeal its own attempt at a generational ban, which was seen by many as the blueprint followed by the UK Prime Minister, Imperial Brands argued there was now no international precedent for the ban.

“The prohibition of tobacco products won’t deter tobacco users from smoking, rather it will increase the already flourishing illicit trade - as was the case in South Africa when the government outlawed the sale of tobacco products during covid – and lead to a decline in government revenues,” said a spokesperson. “Last year, receipts from tobacco duty contributed £10 billion to the public purse.”

Moreover, with abuse against retail staff nearly doubling since the pandemic, the retail industry is concerned about the impact a generational smoking ban would have on this growing trend, claimed the company. With the Electoral Commission estimating that around 11 million people living in the UK lack a valid form of ID, enforcing this ban could cause further conflict at the point of sale, it suggested.

Oliver Kutz, general manager UK and Ireland at Imperial Brands, said:

“As a responsible manufacturer of both tobacco and reduced harm alternatives, we take a zero-tolerance approach to anyone under 18 accessing our products.

“The government’s intention to put the UK on a path to a smokefree future is one we all share, however, a generational smoking ban, coupled with a ban on disposable vapes, risks undermining the country’s progress.

“It is clear that prohibition does not reduce tobacco consumption; rather it creates an illicit market, fuels organised crime, and presents a real danger to retailers. Removing disposable vapes, the most widely used harm reduction alternative in the UK, at the same time as prohibiting legitimate tobacco sales, is illogical and counterproductive.

“If the UK wants to continue on its journey to reduce smoking, whilst preventing the rise of youth vaping, greater enforcement of the current regulations at the point of sale is imperative. The introduction of a retailer licensing scheme, alongside Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches, would deter retailers from selling to under 18s, ensuring a crackdown on youth vaping that does not risk existing vapers reverting to smoking.”