Single-use vape suppliers have expressed frustration over the government’s plan to ban them in a move to curb under-age usage.

Announced by the government following a consultation on the issue, disposable vapes will be banned and restrictions will be placed on flavours.

Elf Bar, which was reported as the biggest seller in the vape category by The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2023, said it was “disappointed” by the ban announcement.

“At Elf Bar, we share common ground with the government’s response to the consultation, particularly in aspects to do with the prevention of children vaping. And we have been working towards this goal with actions since before the consultation began,” said Eve Peters, director of government affairs for Elf Bar. “At the same time, we are disappointed with the outright ban on single-use vapes among the proposed measures, given that the recent UCL study funded by Cancer Research UK clearly shows the critical role single-use vapes play in the journey of adults seeking to quit smoking. Although we strongly support the motivation to prevent children from accessing single-use vapes, we firmly believe there are more pragmatic responses than a ban, including the introduction of a licensing scheme and on-the-spot law enforcement.

Peters added that many suppliers have worked to become more responsible. “While established industry players in the market, including Elf Bar, have made substantial efforts and demonstrated significant progress in self-regulation, it is unfortunate that the actions of bad actors have clouded this distinction, making it challenging for the public to differentiate. The proposal to ban single-use vapes will help fuel the already burgeoning illegal market.

“Irrespective of where our views may differ, we are keen to keep working with various regulators, remaining steadfast in our dedication to supporting smokers on their harm-reduction journey.”

Phoenix 2 Retail, which supported Convenience Store’s Responsible Retailing Week, said the government should focus on those selling to minors rather than blanket action.

Managing director Chris Kelly said: “Phoenix 2 Retail supports stronger regulations in the industry but believes that the proposed regulations could benefit from considered development involving all parties that would be affected by the proposed ban. The Government should focus on cracking down on importers and those selling vaping products to minors rather than on responsible operators like Phoenix 2 Retail and others who already have effective measures in place to prevent underage sales and promote recycling. The proposed regulations will have a negative impact on public health and could result in more people using harmful combustible cigarettes. I urge the Government to work with reputable businesses and industry leaders to develop effective solutions that promote a smoke-free future in the long term. We have always had a strong focus on sustainability and the long-term future of vaping - we identified early on that recycling was a key part of this as we aim to reach over 20,000 retailers by the end of 2024, ensuring that there is at least one recycling unit per store.

“Phoenix 2 Retail will be here to support both the convenience channel and wholesalers in navigating through this period both with the right product range, fixture solution, in store report, regulatory support and recycling. This focus will allow adult smokers a sustainable route out of combustible cigarettes and adult vapes to find a product that suits their journey.”

General manager UK & Ireland at Imperial Brands Oliver Kutz applauded the announcement regarding action on flavours but warned that a ban on single-use vapes would fuel the illicit trade.

“We are pleased that the government will act on issues such as vape flavour names, packaging, retail display, and penalties for those selling to under 18s, and we look forward to reviewing the details of the Bill when it is published.

“We are concerned, however, at the likely impact of removing disposable vapes, the most widely used tobacco harm reduction alternative in the UK. Not only will this reduce the accessibility of vaping products to adults seeking to quit smoking, but it will also fuel the illegal trade of unregulated products, already a sizeable problem for enforcement authorities.

“We do not tolerate youth vaping and strongly endorse action to prevent the marketing and sale of nicotine products to young people,” added Kutz. “It is important, however, that new restrictions do not compromise the ability of vaping products to transition adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes. Disposable vapes are currently used by more than half of adult vapers, and a ban threatens to undermine the country’s significant progress to reduce smoking.

Alternative solutions

BAT lead for the UK Asli Ertonguc put forward alternatives to a ban that could be more effective.

“Though a ban on disposable vapes might seem like a straightforward way to stop underage vaping, increased controls on the importation, appeal, and access of these products will more effectively reduce underage use. This will avoid burdening already under resourced authorities, and reduce rather than increase, the number of illegal vapes sold.

“Measures include:

· Like alcohol, requiring those who sell vapes to have a retail licence, which would be revoked if they were found to be selling to anyone underage.

· Banning confectionery, dessert and soft drink flavoured vapes, along with marketing slogans and imagery involving toys, cartoons, and sweets.

· Introducing a mandatory testing programme for products shipped to the UK to ensure vapes are compliant with regulations before they can be sold.

· Putting more resources into enforcing vaping laws, funded by excise and fines.

· Making it mandatory for single-use vapes to have removable batteries, facilitating more straightforward recycling.”

CEO of Evapo, Andrej Kuttruf, also suggested a licensing scheme as an alternative to a ban.

“Evapo believes the best way to protect children, help smokers quit, and stop the criminals that sell vapes illegally to children is by introducing a sensible, evidence-based licensing regime, in the same way alcohol sales are licensed in the UK.

“Excessive restrictions on vaping through banning disposables and restricting flavours could undermine and reverse the UK’s world-leading progress on smoking reduction, which has seen the UK achieve the fastest declines in smoking rates in Europe over the last decade. The proposed ban and restrictions will only serve to hand a big part of the regulated nicotine market to criminals on a silver platter.”