Prohibition of the sale and supply of single-use vapes Full Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment

Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) for the proposed prohibition on the sale and supply of single-use vapes in Scotland.

Purpose and Intended Effect

1. Vapes (also known as e-cigarettes) have increased in popularity in recent years, becoming more mainstream products.[1] In Scotland, the proportion of adults using nicotine vapour products (vapes) increased from 7% in 2019 to 10% in 2022.[2] This is also confirmed by data collected for the Smoking Toolkit Study which shows the proportion of adults making use of nicotine products increased from 7.3% in October 2020 vs 9.5% in October 2023.[3] 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.[4]

2. 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 [5]. 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.[6] 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.[7] More research is required on dual use of both cigarettes and vapes. Data suggest this might pose the same or higher health risks than smoking cigarettes alone.[8]

3. An annual survey undertaken in 2023 by Action on Smoking and Health England (ASH), looked at the smoking status and vaping behaviour amongst vapes users in Great Britain.[9] Findings from this research showed 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.[10]

4. 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),[11] 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 will last for a longer period of time.

5. Reusable vapes (i.e. non-single-use vapes) come in various types but will mostly fall in one of the following categories:

  • A refillable and rechargeable vape is a device that does not come pre-filled but sometimes an e-liquid is sold with the device. Users can refill the vape tank with e-liquid and recharge the battery. Certain components of the products can be replaced such as the coils and batteries.
  • A vape pod system is a vape that uses a pod rather than a vape tank. A pod system consists of a small battery, which is rechargeable, and a refillable or replaceable pod/cartridge that contains the e-liquid.
  • Vape mods or tank devices are a type of vape device that are designed for vape users who want a more customisable vaping experience. They typically offer more features, such as a bigger and more powerful battery and adjustable power

6. Single-use vapes tend to dominate the casual and beginner entry points of the market. Generalist retailers, including convenience stores, primarily sell single-use products whilst specialist vape stores tend to sell more reusable vapes and refill products. [12] Single-use vapes account for around 50% of the UK vape market. It has been estimated[13] 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.

7. 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. In 2022, a survey by ASH[14] showed that for the first time the most popular type of e-cigarette amongst GB youth was single-use (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 2022, and this year 69% of vape users under 18 said this was the vaping device they used most frequently.

8. 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.[15] 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[16] 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.[17] 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%). They have also increased in prevalence amongst young people[18] and people who haven’t traditionally smoked cigarettes.[19]

9. 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.[20]

10. Single-use vapes which are thrown in general waste will either be landfilled or incinerated and 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.[21]

11. When single-use vapes are littered, they introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury, and flammable lithium-ion batteries into the natural environment.[22] These chemicals can end up contaminating waterways and soil and can also be toxic and damaging to wildlife. When single-use vapes are littered, the plastic casing can grind down into harmful microplastics. Single-use vapes are primarily littered in public spaces which generates clean-up costs to local authorities. [23]

12. Vapes, like other electricals, should not be placed in a general waste bin or littered, and should instead be returned to vapes retailers or to household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs). Current estimates indicate, that across the UK, only 17% of vape users correctly dispose of their single-use vapes.[24] In Scotland an estimated 12.8% of single-use vapes are taken back to participating stores, and 8.3% to household waste recycling centres.[25] These estimates may change as from 1 January 2024 all vapes retailers must provide in-store take-back and are no longer able to participate in the Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS) for WEEE.

13. Single-use vapes are difficult and expensive to recycle.[26] 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.[27] 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 recycled due to limited recycling capacity.[28] 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.[29]

14. 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[30], which is essential to the production of electronic devices, batteries, and energy generation.[31] The increased demand for single-use vapes has led to an increased demand for these critical raw materials. 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, greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.[32]



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