England’s chief medical officer has attacked the “appalling” marketing of vapes to children
England’s chief medical officer has attacked the “appalling” marketing of vapes to children – saying it is clear some products are intended to appeal to underage kids.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty told MPs that the marketing of vapes to youngsters was obviously “happening” and said “we should be much more serious” in doing “everything we can” to reduce vaping among children.
Research published last July found the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many being influenced by social media sites including TikTok.
Newer, disposable e-cigarettes are increasing in popularity, in part because they cost around £5 each and come in a wide range of colours and fruity flavours.
A survey of children, carried out for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), found that, over the previous year, a new generation of disposable vapes known as “puff bars” – which contain nicotine – have come on to the market.
While it is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, social media carries posts from teenagers showing vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango.
The Ash poll found the proportion of children aged 11 to 17 currently vaping jumped from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.
In 2013, just 3% of children aged 11 to 15 had ever vaped, but this rose to 8% in 2020 and 10% in 2022.
During his appearance before the Commons Health and Social Care Committee on preventing ill health, Sir Chris was asked by Dr Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, about vaping becoming a “fad” among teenagers.
She said vapes were “heavily marketed at children, which is developing into a whole generation of teenagers completely addicted to sucking little nicotine coloured pop things.”
Sir Chris replied that there was agreement that existing smokers should switch to vapes because vapes were the healthier option compared with cigarettes.
But he added: “I think everyone agrees that marketing vaping, an addictive product, with, as you imply, unknown consequences for developing minds, to children is utterly unacceptable.
“Yet it is happening. There’s no doubt it’s happening because, although from a low base, the rates of vaping have doubled in the last couple of years among children. So that is an appalling situation.”
He said more must be done to reduce vaping among children, adding: “Is it reasonable to have, in any case, flavours and colours that are clearly aimed at essentially encouraging people to vape who may well not be vaping at all?
“I think we need to be much more serious, in my view, that trying everything we can to reduce vaping in children, as well as smoking in children, is really important whilst trying what we can do to make sure that vaping is available for those for whom that is the route out of smoking.
“So it’s getting that balance right. And there’s quite a lot of debate around the world how to do this.”
He added: “Disposables vapes are clearly – things like Elf Bar – are clearly the kinds of products which look as if they’re being marketed, in reality, at children.
“And I think we should look very seriously at these products for which the child market appears to be the principal market and say ‘why are we considering this to be a good thing to have?’.”
Last September, experts called for a crackdown on the sale of vapes to children and concluded little is known about the long-term impact of e-cigarettes on health.
The King’s College London study, commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the Department of Health, said it was clear that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes in the short to medium term and smokers should be encouraged to switch to vapes.
However, it said current research is not robust enough to make clear conclusions about how harmful vaping is in the longer term.
Sir Chris also took aim at junk food companies, including those that market products to children.
He told MPs: “If advertising didn’t make an effect on people’s behaviours, then people (firms) wouldn’t pay the very large sums they do for it.
“And that’s a self-evidently true statement.”
He said adults made choices for their children but advertising aimed at children “is in a sense undermining that principle”.
He added: “And I do think there is generally consensus about the fact we need to do something about it.
“There is a slight tendency for this particular can to be kicked down the road for a variety of reasons. My view is firmly that we should be taking this… seriously, because there is, I think, support around the political system for it.
“It is to do with the timing and I think accelerating the timing, to me seems a good public health intervention, that runs very much with the grain in most people’s philosophy, irrespective of where they sit on the political spectrum.”
Sir Chris also told MPs “obesity is going in the wrong direction” and suggested that more focus should be paid to preventing ill health in areas of deprivation.
He said obese people living in these regions are often unhelpfully framed as “well people just making individual choices” when in fact their choices when it comes to food and exercise “are very, very heavily constrained”.
He added: “You might for example [go to a] high street [and see] one chicken shop after another, that’s not to single out chicken shops particularly but just to make the point that the range of choices that are available in much more affluent areas are simply not there and the facilities are simply not there.
“Then you actually have the reality that the marketing from some companies – and I will will pick out the cigarette industry – clearly is marketed heavily at people living in areas of deprivation, because that is where they get their custom. You can see that from the numbers.
“They go for people in areas of deprivation, they go… for teenagers, that is their model. And so it’s not therefore surprising if there is very heavy marketing by some of the most sophisticated marketing companies in the world that you end up in the situation you do.”
The UK Vaping Industry Association has been contacted for comment.
Published: by Radio NewsHub