237 disposable vapes found in a 1 metre squared corner of Falkirk skatepark in February 2023. Credit: Laura Young via Instagram

Health and environment: the disputed ban of disposable vapes

By Katie McKay

The Glasgow Guardian outlines a range of student opinions regarding the Scottish Government’s proposed ban on disposable vapes.

Led by Green MSP Gillian Mackay, a ban on the use of disposable vapes is currently being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. A large consideration in this proposal is the use of lithium batteries and the threat they pose to the environment. Zero Waste Scotland are to lead the review, which will take international experience and action into the potential ban. Additionally, the proposed ban aims to alleviate the impact of vaping on the health of young people, as well as the questionable marketing tactics.

Whilst it is generally believed that vapes are not as harmful as traditional cigarettes, their use still carries major health implications. Cancer Research states that while it is too soon to determine the full effect of vaping, vapes contain potentially harmful chemicals. Nicotine is highly addictive, and whilst it does not cause cancer itself, is difficult to give up. Especially when many users did not previously smoke, the use of high levels of nicotine causes unnecessary and potentially long-term harm.

Moreover, knock-off products have the potential to contain dangerous chemicals which are harmful to the user. In 2019, the sale of illegal vapes in the United States was linked to an outbreak of lung illness. Despite the dangers, the number of young people choosing to vape is alarmingly high. In 2021, the Scottish Health Survey found that 6% of 16–24-year-olds regularly use e-cigarettes. Even more worryingly, the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities found last year that vaping prevalence in 11–18-year-olds, including occasional or regular vaping, was 8.6% in England. 

Despite the negative impact of vaping on health, the student reaction to the proposed ban on disposable vapes is somewhat mixed. Many UofG students voiced support for the ban, referring to the environmental impact of disposable vapes and their wasteful use of lithium batteries. Some students highlighted the fact vaping is ‘too easy’, as it is much more accessible than cigarettes, and many more people choose to vape inside where they would often not smoke. Other students admitted that they feel vaping has been more detrimental to their nicotine addictions than traditional smoking.

Aside from the excessive waste of single-use plastics, heavy metals used in the creation and disposable batteries of vapes are detrimental to the environment as residual nicotine also qualifies as a biohazard. In fact, environmental health researcher at Colorado State University John Volckens claims that the improper disposal of vape batteries may contribute to water contamination. A ban on disposable vapes in Scotland could therefore significantly reduce plastic and heavy metal waste to the environment. 

At a time when society is desperately attempting to become more sustainable, disposable vapes simply add to landfill and plastic waste. In a video uploaded to TikTok on 8 January, PhD student and climate activist Laura Young shared that she found 55 discarded disposable vapes in a 4-mile-radius of Dundee. As society is striving to prevent and reverse the damaging effects of climate change, the withdrawal of disposable vapes from sale would be a major step in reducing waste in Scotland.

Nevertheless, not all students support the proposed ban. Many simply enjoy using highly concentrated nicotine vapes and do not wish for the ban of disposable vapes. There are also concerns about the impact on the mental health of young people which the ban could cause. With many relying on vaping as a quick hit of nicotine, concerns about the removal of this option are very real amongst the student population. A mixed reaction at the proposed ban from students reflects the feelings of wider society and shows that the proposed legislation is not so clear-cut.

In particular, colourful and easily accessible vapes are desirable to teenagers and young people. Flavours such as ‘bubble-gum’, ‘candyfloss’ and ‘blue sour raspberry’ sound more like sweets than a cigarette equivalent. The brightly coloured packaging only makes these products more enticing to children and young people, despite them being technically marketed for adults only. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration banned vapes featuring cartoon characters from ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Rick & Morty’. This marketing could be described as immoral and profit-driven, and it compromises the safety of children and young people.

Originally designed to aid smokers in quitting, the appealing packaging of many disposable vapes is concerning in the fact that it appears to be marketed at children and adolescents. The supposedly child-driven marketing ploy is a large factor in the support for the proposed ban. Aside from health implications, the negative impact of disposable vapes on the environment is staggering, as single-use plastics fill up landfills and pollute the oceans. The use of disposable vapes have introduced the possibility of a lifetime addiction and a gateway to smoking to what was set to be the first ‘smoke-free’ generation.

The proposed ban on disposable vapes is highly controversial and sparks a wide range of opinions. However, it is self-evident that the improvement of plastic and heavy metal waste in Scotland would indefinitely help the environment. Moreover, the proposed legislation would reduce the unnecessary consumption of nicotine by people who have never previously smoked. Although the mental health of young people is a concern for many, there are high levels of support for the vaping ban amongst the student population. Time will tell how the Scottish Government chooses to approach the issue of disposable vapes, but the decision will undoubtedly be met with both delight and anguish.


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