Prohibition of the sale and supply of single-use vapes: Fairer Scotland Duty Summary

Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA) summary for the proposed prohibition on the sale and supply of single-use vapes in Scotland.


9. Vapes (also known as e-cigarettes) have increased in popularity in recent years, becoming more mainstream products.[2] In Scotland, the proportion of adults making use of nicotine vapour products increased from 7% in 2019 to 10% in 2022.[3] This is also confirmed by data collected for the Smoking Toolkit Study which shows the proportion of adults using nicotine products increased from 7.3% in Oct 2020 vs 9.5% in Oct 2023.[4] Specifically, the proportion of adults using single-use vapes has increased, growing from 0.1 % to 4.9 % between January 2021 to August 2023 across the UK.[5]

10. The rise in the use of single-use vapes has led to their increase in the waste stream. There has been growing concern over their environmental impact as they are typically littered or discarded as general waste in a bin rather than recycled. In 2023, it was estimated that almost 5 million single-use vapes were either littered or thrown away in general waste every week in the UK, almost four times as many as in the previous year.[6]

11. Single-use vapes which are thrown in a bin with general waste will either be landfilled or incinerated. They also pose a fire risk for waste collection vehicles and waste transfer sites due to their lithium-ion batteries. Compaction during the collection process increases the chances of puncture and combustion, setting fire to dry and flammable waste or household recycling around them. This endangers the public and collection crews, as well as damaging public and private property. It is estimated that lithium-ion batteries are responsible for approximately 48% (over 200) of all waste fires occurring in the UK each year.[7]

12. When single-use vapes are littered, they introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury, and flammable lithium-ion batteries into the natural environment.[8] The chemicals can end up contaminating waterways and soil and can also be toxic and damaging to wildlife. When single-use vapes which have a plastic casing are littered, the plastic can grind down into harmful microplastics. Single-use vapes are primarily littered in public spaces and this generates clean-up costs to local authorities. [9]

13. Vapes, like other electricals, should not be placed in a general waste bin or littered, and should be recycled through specialist routes and facilities instead. Current estimates indicate that only 17% of vape users in the UK correctly dispose of their single-use vapes.[10] To be recycled, they must be taken to a vape shop or participating retailer using dedicated bins, or to a local Household Waste and Recycling Centre using designated bins. In Scotland, an estimated 12.8% of single-use vapes are taken back to stores, and 8.3% to household waste recycling centres.[11]

14. Single-use vapes are difficult and expensive to recycle.[12] The only recycling process available in the UK is manual dismantling which is costly and time consuming as most single-use vapes are not designed to be taken apart easily.[13] They are designed as one unit and require specific tools to remove the lithium-ion battery for recycling and careful handling of components to avoid operator exposure to the remaining e-liquid. Of the single-use vapes that are returned to a shop or recycling centre across the UK, it is estimated that only 1% are actually recycled due to limited recycling capacity.[14] The remainder of vapes collected for recycling are likely to be sent to landfill given the Environment Agency’s guidance (applicable across the UK) that single-use vapes should not be incinerated.[15]

15. Environmental impacts from manufacturing single-use vapes are also a concern. A typical single-use vape contains plastic, copper, cobalt, and a lithium battery. Lithium and cobalt are critical raw materials as noted in the UK’s Critical Raw Materials Strategy[16] which are essential to the production of electronic devices, batteries, and energy generation.[17] The increased demand for single-use vapes leads to an increased demand for these critical raw materials. It is estimated that the total amount of single-use vapes thrown away in 2023 contained enough lithium to provide batteries for 5,000 electric vehicles.[18] This is a waste of valuable resources in a product with a short lifespan, that is poorly recycled, and has a reuseable alternative readily available. As well as a loss of resources, there are environmental impacts through raw material extraction, single-use vape production, and manufacturing. Most notably, this includes greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption generated in their manufacture.[19]

16. Vapes can be a helpful tool to support smokers to quit, though research into the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes is still relatively new [20].They are considered less harmful than smoking when smokers completely switch to vaping products. As they usually still contain nicotine, they are not risk-free, and the long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown.[21] A 2024 Scottish Government briefing also concluded that vaping can cause health harms in non-smokers to which they would not otherwise have been exposed to.[22] More research is required on dual use of both cigarettes and vapes. Data suggest this might pose the same of higher health risks than smoking cigarette alone.[23]

17. An annual survey undertaken in 2023 by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH England), looking at the smoking status and vaping behaviour amongst vapes users in Great Britain.[24] Findings from this research show that 56% of vape users are ex-smokers, 37% are current smokers and a smaller proportion are people who have never smoked. It also found that around two thirds of vape users’ most popular main device was a reusable vape, with 31% mainly using a single-use vape.[25]

18. Single-use-vapes are defined as products that are not rechargeable (they use a battery which cannot be recharged, or a coil which cannot be replaced, including a coil contained in a single-use cartridge which is not separately available), or are not refillable (once empty, the cartridge or pod cannot be refilled or replaced),[26] or are not rechargeable and not refillable. In contrast, a reusable vape can both be recharged and fully refilled an unlimited number of times by the user and can be used for a longer period of time.

19. Single-use vapes tend to dominate the entry points of the market for those new to vaping. Generalist retailers, including convenience stores, primarily sell single-use products whilst specialist vape stores tend to sell more reusable vapes and refill products. [27] Single-use vapes account for around 50% of the UK vape market. It has been estimated that 60% turnover by the vapes industry is generated from single-use vapes, in comparison to 40% from reusable vapes, refill cartridges and e-liquid.

20. There has been an increase in popularity in single-use vapes in recent years, especially among young people. The proportion of adults using single-use vapes increased from 0.1% to 4.9% between January 2021 to August 2023 across the UK. Last year (2022) a survey by ASH (England) [28] showed that for the first time the most popular type of e-cigarette amongst young people in Great Britain was disposable (single use) e-cigarettes, with their use growing more than a 7-fold between 2020 and 2022 from 7.7% to 52%. Growth has continued since last year and 69% of children this year said this was the device they used most frequently.

21. Vapes should not be used by children, young people or non-smokers. They carry an unknown long-term risk of future harm and can be very addictive.[29] It is also an offence to sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18 in the UK. Despite the sale of vapes to those under the age of 18 being illegal, the recent Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (Scotland) study[30] reports that 3% of 11-year-olds, 10% of 13-year-olds and 25% of 15-year-olds said they had used a vape in the past 30 days. Purchasing from shops is the most common source[31]. The report also found that there have been increases in current vape use since 2018 for 13-year-old girls (2% to 13%) and larger increases for 15-year-olds (girls 6% to 30% and boys 8% to 20%).[32] They have also increased in prevalence amongst young people[33] and people who have not traditionally smoked cigarettes.[34]

Wider policy context

22. The Scottish Government is committed to moving towards a circular economy, where we move from a "take, make and dispose" model to one where we value materials and keep them in use. Reusable vapes are a readily available alternative to single-use vapes and have a much longer lifespan. They are made from more durable materials and are built to last longer. Although they are initially more expensive reusable vapes are, in cases where they are frequently used, considered to be more cost-effective in the long term.[35]

23. Reusable vapes are considered to be less environmentally damaging, as the same vape can be used for an extended period of time compared to single-use vapes. This causes little change in consumer experience while reducing environmental impacts.

24. The Department of Health and Social Care published a call for evidence on youth vaping in April 2023[36] where the impact of vapes on the environment was a key theme of interest. A summary of responses to this call for evidence was published in October 2023, highlighting many of the key issues in relation to the damaging impact on the environment caused by single-use vapes.[37]

25. There are measures already in place to ensure responsible production and disposal of vapes. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2013[38] aim to encourage the reuse and recycling of these items by placing financial responsibilities on producers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to pay for the collection and disposal schemes for end-of-life products. This means that all producers who place EEE on the UK market, including producers of single-use vapes, are responsible for financing the costs of the collection, treatment, recovery, and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE.

26. Compliance with the current WEEE regulations by vape producers is estimated to be low. This includes low levels of awareness amongst store owners and distributors for takeback schemes, as well as low levels of customer participation reported.[39]

27. Plans to reform the producer responsibility system for waste electrical and electronic equipment[40] have recently been consulted on. Proposals under review include the provision of collection infrastructure for household WEEE financed by producers of electrical and electronic equipment; reforms to the take-back obligations that currently apply to distributors; obligations on online marketplaces; and creating a new separate categorisation for vapes to ensure producers of vapes properly finance recycling costs when they become waste. The reported low awareness of producer obligations ought to be addressed by the implementation of these producer responsibility reforms.



Back to top