Prohibition of the sale and supply of single-use vapes: child rights and wellbeing impact assessment - interim stage 2

The interim stage 2 child rights and wellbeing impact assessment for the proposed prohibition of the sale and supply of single-use vapes.

CRWIA Stage 2 – Assessment of Impact and Compatibility

1. What evidence have you used to inform your assessment? What does it tell you about the impact on children’s rights? (Guidance Section 2.2)

The prohibition of the sale and supply of disposable (single-use) vapes in Scotland is due to come into effect on 1 April 2025. This includes both nicotine and non-nicotine containing single-use vapes since the environmental concerns exist for both types of products. To address the range of environmental issues associated with single-use vapes, the Scottish Government has agreed with the UK Government (legislating for England) and the Welsh Government, to prohibit the sale and supply of such items (hereafter referred to as ban on single-use vapes).

The Scottish Government, along with the UK Government (UKG), Welsh Government and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland published a four nations consultation on Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping which ran from October-December 2023. The consultation included a range of proposals, including consideration of prohibiting the sale and supply of disposable (single-use) vapes and other measures to reduce their environmental impact.

The consultation included five questions relating to proposals to restrict the supply or sale of disposable (single-use) vapes. Relevant sector stakeholders were identified and invited to respond to the consultation. Ten organisations representing children and young people responded to the joint consultation including Children in Scotland.

The four nations consultation response showed clear support for restrictions on the sale and supply of disposable (single-use) vapes[1]. In Scotland, 82.3% supported restrictions on disposable (single-use) vapes (79.3% UK-wide), and 73.4% favoured an outright ban (68.1% UK-wide). Open text answers show the largest concerns raised were around environmental harm and littering.

For those who disagreed with the ban, concerns included impacts on smoking cessation programmes and desire to focus on improving waste management. The responses from Scotland accounted for 11% of the 28,000 responses received. More information on the consultation, responses received, and the government response can be found at the UK Government website.[2]

To address the range of environmental issues associated with disposable (single-use) vapes, the Scottish Government has agreed with the UK Government (legislating for England) and the Welsh Government, to prohibit the sale and supply of such items (hereafter referred to as ban on single-use vapes). Northern Ireland officials acknowledge the issues raised during the consultation and will consider potential legislation in future.

Stakeholder Engagement

There has been extensive engagement with stakeholders throughout the development of this policy and subsequent draft legislation. We have held a number of meetings with key stakeholders with an interest in the policy area, including the Scottish Youth Parliament. A separate consultation on the draft legislation that will be taken forward in Scotland closed on the 8 March 2024.

It is also our intention to use the upcoming consultation period to undertake additional evidence building and stakeholder engagement. This will help to further test our findings and better understand any impacts that may occur. The outcome from these discussions will be included in an updated assessment to be published with our response to the consultation.

All engagement will adhere to our commitments under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3. This ensures our tobacco control policies are protected from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

Evidence Base

We have drawn upon existing research, as referenced in the following sections, to understand the impact the new legislation will have on children and young people. We also considered a range of existing Scottish Government data, UK Government data, stakeholder reports and insights. The assessment has been informed by a range of quantitative and qualitative evidence (Appendix 1).

Summary of Evidence and Impact on Children’s Rights

The evidence suggests that there are two key areas of concern for stakeholders, the environmental impact of disposable (single-use) vapes and health implications of vaping for children and young people.

Use of Vapes among children and young people

While vapes should not be used by children and it is illegal sale vapes to anyone under 18 years, 18% of adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 reported having used an e-cigarette at least once in their lifetime. Rates were higher among older adolescents with 4% of 11-year-olds and 16% of 13-year-olds reporting using an e-cigarette in their lifetime compared to 36% of 15-year-olds[3]. This implies that there is poor compliance with the restriction of vape sales to those who are underage, thereby leading to underage and illegal vape use. Products are available in a variety of flavours (e.g. various fruit flavours, sweet flavours, soft drinks, etc.) with attractive packaging which potentially increases the risk for children to find these products appealing. Research suggests that the majority of vape users under 18 mainly used disposable (single-use) vapes in 2023[4].

Environmental Impact

There are clear environmental impacts associated with the use of single-use vapes, including littering; increased fire risk; and greenhouse gas emissions generated during production.

Disposable (single-use) vapes which are thrown in a bin with general waste end up in landfill or being incinerated, and they also pose a fire risk due to their lithium-ion batteries.

There is a positive impact identified for reduced littering associated with disposable (single-use) vapes. Whilst this will create a benefit for all age groups, it may be more significant for younger people (16-24) whose perceptions of their area are more likely to be negatively impacted by littering[5].

Research on vape disposal by Material Focus, found that almost 5 million disposable vapes are either littered or thrown away in general waste every week[6]. This has quadrupled in the last year and is equivalent to the lithium batteries that could power 5,000 electric vehicles being thrown away per year. The report found 52% of 18 to 34 year olds who bought a vape in the last year bought a single-use product. The report also found that over 360 million single-use vapes are bought in the UK each year, and concerningly, only 73% of these vapes are disposed of correctly.

Environmental impacts from manufacturing single-use vapes are also of concern. A typical single-use vape contains plastic, copper and a lithium battery. Lithium is a critical raw material which is essential to the production of electronic devices[7]. Lithium and other critical materials included in disposable vapes, such as cobalt and copper, are finite resources[8]. The increased demand for disposable vapes leads to an increased demand for these critical raw materials.

As well as a loss of resources in the economy, there are also environmental impacts with raw material extraction, disposable vape production and manufacturing. Most notably, this includes greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption generated in their manufacture[9].

When single-use vapes are littered, they introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury and flammable lithium-ion batteries into the natural environment. The chemicals can end up contaminating waterways and soil and can also be toxic and damaging to wildlife. When disposable vapes which have a plastic casing are littered, the plastic can grind down into harmful microplastics.

These combined environmental impacts will have long lasting effects for future generations if action is not taken. Therefore, we believe prohibiting the use of single-use vapes will have positive immediate and long-term impacts for children and young people.

Health Impact

Whilst the objectives of the ban on single-use vapes is for environmental purposes, it is clear that vaping has health impacts on children and young people. Studies have found that many youths perceive vaping as a coping mechanism to manage stress and anxiety[10][11] and vaping may act as a gateway to smoking for some children and young people[12]

The main ingredient of vapes that poses a health risk to young people is nicotine. An evidence briefing produced to examine vaping health harms concluded that vaping products cause addiction to nicotine, and vaping causes health harms (e.g. due to addiction and/or exposure to toxicants) in non-smokers to which they would not otherwise have been exposed[13] When inhaled, nicotine is a highly addictive drug. The addictive nature of nicotine means that a user can become dependent on vapes when they use them regularly. Giving up nicotine can be very difficult because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms can include cravings, irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, headaches and other mental and physical symptoms[14].

There are also some health risks associated with the other ingredients in vapes. For example, propylene glycol and glycerine (components of e-liquids) can produce toxic compounds if they are overheated. The long-term health harms of colours and flavours when inhaled are unknown, but they are very unlikely to be beneficial.

Although evidence on the long-term harms of vaping and on the effects of vaping on young people is still emergent, a precautionary approach has been adopted by the Scottish Government, with the main objective being to protect public health and prevent nicotine addiction and other known potential health harms deriving from the use of vaping products, especially in children and young people.

Gaps in the evidence base

The long-term effects of vaping for children and young people are unknown, as a result of the limited time that vaping products have been on the market and unfeasibility of experimental research on young people for ethical reasons[15]. The number of children or young people who are dual users and effects of dual use is also unknown, Data suggest this might pose the same or higher health risks than smoking alone[16].

Although there is a strong association between vaping and subsequent smoking, it is impossible to determine causality and whether the association is due to a gateway effect. Further evidence is required to understand the potential scale of these issue and what mitigation is necessary to address them.

The consultation and engagement for this CRWIA will work to minimise these evidence gaps alongside any others yet to be identified.

2. Evidence from stakeholders/Policy Colleagues (Guidance Section 2.2)

We have engaged with Scottish Government colleagues who were able to share insight, expertise and evidence to inform the development of the CRWIA. This included policy colleagues from:

  • Child Health and Wellbeing Team
  • Tobacco, Gambling, Diet and Healthy Weight Unit
  • Health and Wellbeing Census Team
  • Health Attitudes, Behaviours and Inequalities Team (HABIT)
  • Learning Directorate

Additionally, we are collaborating with Zero Waste Scotland, to produce an Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA), an Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) and an Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA) alongside this CRWIA.

The recent Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (Scotland) study 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. 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%)[17]. The 2022 survey reports 12% use for children aged 11, 13 and 15[18].

The Scottish Government has published a synthesis of various surveys to understand vaping use in children and adults.[19] One of the key messages from this report was that the use of vaping among children and young people could be increasing in Scotland. The proportion reporting regular vaping (once a week or more) varies between 0.2% for UK 10-15 year olds (Understanding Society 2020/21) and 6.7% for Scottish 13 and 15 year olds.

Colleagues from the HABIT directed us to the ASH UK annual survey which shows vaping rates at a GB level for 11-17 year olds. The report finds that:

  • In 2023 20.5% of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020 before the first COVID lockdown. The majority had only vaped once or twice (11.6%), while 7.6% were currently vaping (3.9% less than once a week, 3.6% more than once a week)
  • In 2023 69% said the most frequently used device was a disposable (single- use) vape, up from 52% in 2022 and 7.7% in 2021. The most popular brand was Elf Bar.

The evidence demonstrates that while children and young people are not permitted to use vapes, use among those aged under 18 years of age is increasing.

3. Evidence from children and young people (Guidance Section 2.2)

We have highlighted several sources of evidence which articulate the views of children and young people, including the Scottish Youth Parliament’s report Single Use: Many Voices, Children in Scotland’s Vaping Evidence Paper and Young Scot resource for children and young people on vaping. All of which have been published within the last 12 months.

These organisations have actively engaged with children and young people to research their views on vaping and single-use vapes. The Single Use: Many Voices report by the Scottish Youth Parliament that surveyed over 660 young people, reported overwhelming support for a ban on single-use vapes[20].

In their Vaping in Scotland evidence paper Children in Scotland worked with members of their advisory panel of children and young people. The group reported concern about the potential impact of vaping on the environment, particularly about the impact on local environments, but also the effects on a global scale because vapes and e-cigarettes are made of plastic and have batteries in them[21]. The report called for an awareness raising campaign for everyone about the impact disposable vaping products on the environment.

In their survey on vaping, Young Scot reported that over 75% of respondents who are currently at secondary school said they see other pupils vape multiple times a day[22]. They produced helpful resources led by young people, to highlight the impact of vaping on all aspects of health.

These reports demonstrate that children and young people are conscious that vapes are frequently littered. There is significant concern from children and young people about the environmental impacts of single-use vapes, as well as the health and wellbeing implications of vaping. The proposals to prohibit single-use vapes aim to eliminate littering of single-use vapes.

We will continue to consult with representative organisations who have engaged with children and young people, to explore any evidence gaps in this CRWIA and gather further insight from children and young people as required. This document will be updated to reflect any new evidence gathered during the consultation period.

Once the proposed legislation comes into force we will work in partnership with organisations that represent children and young people to evaluate its impact and identify any unintended consequences of the ban of disposable (single-use) vapes



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