Walking to catch my bus this morning, I saw no less than five or six disposable vapes on the floor. The distinctive blue glow from the bottom of these devices make them nearly impossible to miss.
We’re all aware of the effects of plastic pollution and littering on our ecosystem, so is it now time to bring this into question?
Should disposable vapes be banned?
What are the risks?
Aside from creating further litter to clutter our streets, disposable vapes contain lithium batteries. When lithium batteries become damaged, they leak their fluids into the surrounding environment.
This means that when you drop a disposable vape on a field, a leaking battery can kill greenery in the area, affect wildlife, or pollute entire rivers and streams. This has a massive impact on biodiversity in the environment.
Even if your vape manages to find its way to a bin, damaged batteries can cause fires in waste management facilities - think of the effects of all that rubbish on fire, and what sort of pollutants may be released into the atmosphere.
However, there is a greater personal risk that these vapes may start fires in your own home. One mum wrote to Tyla Magazine to warn teens and young adults against the dangers of disposable vapes after her daughter’s bedroom caught fire.
Tracey Collins disclosed that her daughter had found the disposable vape pen on the street, and picked it up and kept it in her room. Two weeks later, the pen exploded and set the room ablaze.
Tracey indirectly highlighted another risk in her conversation with Tyla: anybody can pick these vapes up. When I’ve seen vapes discarded on the streets, they usually have a blue light glowing at the bottom, indicating that they are still working to some degree.
In residential areas, this poses the risk that young children could find these vapes and put them in their mouths. Given that vapes often have ‘fun’ flavours like candy-floss or sour apple, that child may continue to use the vape until an adult intervenes.
So why not just ban vapes?
We’re all familiar with the health risks of vapes, and now that we’re all more aware of the environmental consequences of disposable vapes, it may be easy to ask why we can’t just ban vaping entirely.
The fact is, it’s really not that simple.
In the US, all products by Juul (a popular e-cigarette retailer) have been banned.
In early 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned fruit-flavoured vaping products, and certain states such as California have banned flavoured tobacco products entirely, including vapes and e-cigarettes.
Supporters of the California ban have argued that 80% of underage nicotine-users started with a flavoured tobacco product. However, U.S News has reported that the ban on flavoured tobacco products may have done more harm than good.
They quote a new survey concluding that most vapers did not quit vaping following the ban, instead opting to smoke traditional cigarettes, or seek products that were not covered under the ban.
This is especially risky as it encourages smokers to seek out alternative, unregulated products to satisfy their cravings. These products cannot be monitored or assessed by official sources, and therefore we cannot grasp the potential risks of these products.
Ossip was also quick to highlight the need to explain these bans to the public, stating that ‘there is a lot of confused messaging’ surrounding the relative risks of these products in comparison to traditional cigarettes, and as a substance alone.
Does that mean vapes will never be banned?
Well, not necessarily.
The risks associated with banning vapes may not be greater than allowing vaping in the UK, but it is undeniable that the government is unlikely to impose an immediate ban on vapes, as in order for this to be effective, traditional cigarettes must also be banned.
We then find ourselves back with the problem of unregulated products entering the market. However, certain countries have implemented measures to make it more difficult for future generations to access these products.
New Zealand’s ‘Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Bill’ has banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 1st January 2009, and cut down the amount of nicotine allowed in these products, and the amount of retailers permitted to sell them.
This may seem like a quick workaround, with young people being able to purchase products through an adult.
However, New Zealand is playing the long game - it’s more realistic, and it’s effective. If we assume that the average lifespan is 82, then NZ would be tobacco-free by 2090.
Furthermore, these measures to reduce tobacco consumption seem to act as a starting point for further restrictions down the line.
In summary? It’s definitely possible, but it’s a long way away.
As for disposable vapes, and their status in the UK, the Scottish health minister has confirmed that a ban will be considered in Scotland, and an anti-disposable vape sentiment has been brewing in Westminster.
In the past few weeks, UK supermarkets have been forced to remove the ‘Elf Bar 600’ from shelves after it was discovered that they contain 50% more nicotine than the legal limit in the UK.
The Action on Smoking and Health charity has called for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to implement a further £4 tax on disposables, on top of the usual product price of £4.99+ to discourage young people from purchasing.
I’m not here to preach about the dangers of smoking to you.
However, we must consider the environmental and social impacts of vapes and whether a ‘quick hit’ is really worth it.
If you’re looking to quit smoking or vaping, there are resources available to help, you are not alone:
The Smokefree app is a four-week programme, free to download, to help you quit.
England - Better Health: 0300 123 1044 (9am - 8pm Mon-Fri, 11am - 4pm Sat-Sun).
Scotland - Quit Your Way: 0800 84 84 84 (8am - 10pm Mon-Fri, 9am - 5pm Sat-Sun).
Wales - Help Me Quit: 0800 085 2219 (8am - 8pm Mon-Thurs, 8am - 5pm Fri, 9am - 4pm Sat).
Northern Ireland - Text ‘QUIT’ to 70004.