Eight-year-olds amongst new generation of underage vapers in Lancashire as number of children using e-cigarettes rockets
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A recent survey by trading standards in the county revealed that one in six 14-17-year-olds regularly use e-cigarettes – even though it is illegal to sell the products to under-18s or for an adult to buy them on their behalf.
The number of vapers in that mid-teens age group has tripled in just three years – and a Lancashire County Council meeting at which the surge in underage vaping was discussed heard that there had been a significant increase in complaints about the unlawful sale of disposable vapes to young people.
Councillors were told that children as young as eight had been seen using the devices in Morecambe.
Almost half of Lancashire’s under-18s claim never to have smoked a cigarette – but say they have tried a vape.
Preston Rural division representative Sue Whittam said she was “shocked” at the number of youngsters she sees walking to and from school who are vaping.
“Children seem to be able to get hold of them and, more worryingly, manufacturers of the vapes are deliberately targeting young people.
“Just ask Google and you can buy – online – brightly-coloured vapes in a variety of attractive flavours, such as strawberry ice cream, watermelon and gummy bears – in fact, every flavour you can think of and they are not expensive to buy.
“It is a worrying trend that something that was designed to help smokers quit has now become something that our young people are using,” said County Cllr Whittam.
The Conservative politician had secured the debate by bringing a notice of motion calling on the county council to write to the government offering Lancashire’s support for a recently-announced crackdown on “unscrupulous businesses targeting young people with vaping products” – and backing the announcement of a review of the rules around the issuing of on-the-spot fines for the illegal sale of vapes, in order to make it easier to hand them out. The maximum penalty for the unlawful sale of vapes to under-18s is currently £2,500.
While the motion won cross-party support, Labour’s John Fillis said that it risked merely “blowing smoke at the issue”.
Calling for a £100,000 boost to the enforcement capacity of Lancashire Trading Standards, County Cllr Fillis said: “We have a great department…who have demonstrated time and time again their ability to enforce the law. Let’s back them up…because in the long term, it’s going to cost the health of our young people far more than that £100,000.”
Cabinet member for finance Alan Vincent said that he was not opposed to extra investment, but would have to determine whether it was “necessary” – in terms of staffing levels – before committing such a sum.
County Cllr Fillis withdrew the specific amount from his suggested amendment and instead called simply for “extra funding to be considered” for a campaign by trading standards to tackle illegal vapes sales, which was accepted by the ruling Tory group.
Cabinet member for health and wellbeing Michael Green said that the authority had already been enhancing its messaging to young people about the dangers of vaping and would continue to do so. He branded the products “modern-day alcopops”.
“Disposable vapes have thus far been the most problematic – and these are the most common types of vape which are smoked by our young people, with seven in 10 [of them] in Lancashire preferring this type of vape. [They] are attractive, with bright colours, fruity flavours and their pocket money prices.
“Whilst the balance of evidence does suggest that existing adult smokers should switch from cigarettes to vapes, it is clearly important that we do everything that we can to reduce both vaping and smoking in children and young people,” said County Cllr Green.
In the recent Action on Smoking and Health Smokefree GB Youth Survey of 11 to 17-year-olds, two out of five young people said they smoke vapes “just to give it a try” and around one in five because “other people use them, so I join in”.
Morecambe Central member Margaret Pattison said that instances of which she had been made aware of eight-year-olds in the town using vapes were “scary”.
“The health risks are still not fully known. The colours and flavours are attractive, which could lead to future smokers [being created],” County Cllr Pattison warned, adding that e-cigarettes often “look like sweets”.
The meeting heard that vapes could indeed be a gateway to traditional smoking, with a county trading standards survey having found that one in five young people claimed that they had tried an e-cigarette before first lighting up tobacco.
Broader concerns were also raised about the quality of vapes on sale – with reports of some containing high levels of lead and nickel.
So far this year, more than 11,000 vapes that did not display the correct legal information – or did not have the correct tank sizes – have been removed from sale in Lancashire by trading standards officials.
‘DON’T LET KIDS GET STARTED ON VAPES’
The body that represents councils in England and Wales has called for an outright ban of single-use vapes.
The Local Government Association (LGA) made the demand because of concerns over the increase in young people using them and also the impact of the throwaway devices on the environment.
The organisation says that disposable vapes cause fires in bin lorries and that their design as single units means their batteries cannot be separated from the plastic - making them almost impossible to recycle without going through special treatment at a cost to the taxpayer.
With 1.3 million disposable vapes thrown away every week, they have also become “a regular and obvious item of litter on our streets", the LGA added.
Meanwhile, a loophole that permits the vaping industry to give free samples of its products to children in England is set to be closed under plans announced by the Prime Minister back in May to help clamp down on youth vaping.
It came as NHS figures for 2021 showed that nine percent of 11 to 15-year-old children used e-cigarettes that year, up from six percent in 2018.
Rishi Sunak said at the time that he was “deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping – and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of school children”.
He added: “Our new illicit vape enforcement squad – backed by £3 million – is on the case, but clearly there is more to do. The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty added: “While vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping.
“There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children, using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.
“Closing the loophole that allows companies to give out free samples of vaping products to under-18s is a very welcome step in tackling some of the harms caused by the vaping industry.
“We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, while preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children.”
Lessons about the health risks of vaping are also to be added to the national curriculum.
1 in 6 – number of Lancashire 14-17-year-olds who regularly vape
3-fold – increase in mid-teen Lancashire vapers since 2020
8 – age of some of Lancashire’s youngest vapers
£2,500 – maximum fine for selling vapes to under-18s
2 in 5 – number of children nationally who start vaping “just to give it a try”
Sources: Lancashire Trading Standards, Lancashire County Council, County Cllr Margaret Pattison and Action on Smoking and Health Smokefree GB Youth Survey