Saturday, June 22, 2024

Rethinking the Role of Disposable Vapes in England’s Nicotine Trends: A Critical Perspective


Recent claims suggest that the rise of disposable vapes is leading to increased nicotine use among young adults in England, reversing historic declines in nicotine consumption. This perspective, driven by findings from a University College London study, warrants a deeper analysis to separate emotional reactions from empirical evidence.

Unpacking the Study’s Findings

The study observes an increase in vaping, particularly among 18 to 24-year-olds, where vaping rates reportedly tripled from 9% in 2021 to 29% in 2023. While this spike seems alarming, it coincides with a notable reduction in smoking rates within the same demographic, from 25% to 21%. This suggests a shift in nicotine consumption from more harmful traditional smoking to potentially less harmful vaping.

Contextualizing Nicotine Use

It’s crucial to contextualize the nature of nicotine use. While nicotine is addictive, the primary harm from smoking arises not from nicotine itself but from the combustion process in cigarettes, which releases numerous carcinogens. Vaping, which lacks this combustion, is considered by many health authorities, including Public Health England, as a significantly less harmful alternative. The relative increase in vaping might reflect a public health success in moving smokers to less harmful alternatives, rather than a straightforward increase in overall nicotine addiction.

The Impact of Disposable Vapes

Disposable vapes have been criticized for their appeal to young adults, often featuring enticing flavors and convenient designs. However, these products also provide a simpler and potentially less intimidating pathway for smokers looking to quit. The key is not to vilify the technology but to regulate its marketing and accessibility to prevent non-smokers from picking it up while still allowing smokers to access a less harmful alternative.

Policy Considerations

The call for urgent actions like excise taxes, packaging restrictions, and accessibility limitations is understandable but should be approached with nuance. Policies aimed at reducing the appeal of vapes to non-smokers should not undermine their role as a cessation tool. It’s possible to implement regulations that target marketing practices without compromising the availability of these products for adults who are using them to quit smoking.


While the increase in vaping among young adults warrants attention, the narrative that disposable vapes are solely driving up nicotine use lacks nuance. A balanced approach is needed—one that discourages initiation among non-smokers while recognizing the role of vaping in harm reduction strategies. This approach should leverage regulatory frameworks to ensure that vaping serves as a bridge away from smoking, not a gateway into nicotine use.

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