Last week I was at a party. Everyone was having a lovely time. That is, until a group of us stepped outside for some air and one person pulled out their banana-flavoured vape. Cue a too-long conversation, between adults, about whether it tasted more like banana milkshake or those little foam sweets. Physically cringing, I took the first opportunity to slip away, under the cover of darkness, to rejoin the self-respecting grown-ups singing “Murder on the Dancefloor” at the top of their lungs inside.
But the epidemic of vaping and its reign of cringe over the nation could be on the wane. As part of the prime minister’s war against smoking – he wants to increase the smoking age year by year until no one can ever smoke again – Rishi Sunak has announced plans for a ban on disposable vapes by the end of 2025. The government also says it will limit reusable vapes to just four flavours and end the use of colourful packaging marketing them to young people. At last, I thought to myself: a Tory policy I can get behind!
Though I’d like them to, the Tories are not banning vapes because they’re unbearably lame. They’re banning them because all the elements of vaping that make grown adults look ridiculous using them – the flavours, from “Watermelon Ice” to “Blue Razz Cherry” and “Cotton Candy”; the pastel and neon colours; the little flashing lights – are exactly what are attracting children to them. An intervention has been needed for a while. Youth vaping has tripled in the past three years, despite it being illegal for under 18s, with brands from Elf to Lost Mary advertising on Instagram and TikTok. And since 2021, the proportion of children in the UK currently vaping has been greater than those currently smoking (7.6 per cent vape in 2023, compared to the 3.6 per cent who smoke). The ban, said health secretary Victoria Atkins, aims to “prevent children from becoming hooked for life”.
While the point of vaping was supposed to be to help adult smokers quit, many kids have been tempted into trying these cheap, cute-looking pocket-sized toys, with those children three times more likely to graduate to cigarettes. Where before, ads for Nicorette to help people quit smoking seemed to be everywhere, these days, the company’s ads are aimed at people trying to ditch the vape. Vapes might not be as bad for us as smoking, but they still contain nicotine, which is addictive and impacts children’s brain development, as well as other harmful chemicals. There might be more serious, long-term health risks, but vapes haven’t been around long enough for doctors to know.
Banning disposable vapes is also a shrewd environmental move. The number of vapes going in the bin each year could fill 22 football pitches. And a single disposable vape (which typically lasts about 500 puffs before it has to be replaced) can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. But because of how addictive vapes are, people push these thoughts to the side. Some of my seemingly most environmentally conscious friends, who will keep their cauliflower stalks for roasting and refill their shampoo bottles, are sucking on Elf Bars all day.
Another depressing aspect of vaping is that there is no natural end. A cigarette lasts about five minutes, but vapers will happily vape for hours on the sofa while they watch TV. Or even while they work. Last year, a survey found that vaping indoors was number two on the list of biggest workplace icks, second only to colleagues making TikTok videos at the office.
But mostly, vaping is just terminally uncool. I know, I know: smoking isn’t cool, either. There’s nothing sexy about lung cancer or heart disease. But imagine the eternally insouciant James Dean reaching for his Triple Mango Lost Mary, or the cast of Mad Men clinking Dorothy Thorpe whiskey glasses and writing slogans through clouds of Kiwi Passion. It just doesn’t have quite the same effect. In one viral Reddit post called “men who vape is such an ick”, one woman implored adult men who “suck on candy-flavoured USB sticks” to stop, adding: “What I would give to find a husband who smokes a pipe.”
Nobody should be judged for weening themselves off cigarettes by choosing to vape instead. We know that vaping exposes us to far fewer toxins and at lower levels than smoking cigarettes. But vapes are a problem when they become a gateway to nicotine addiction for people who’d never have considered smoking in the first place. I will never be on board with seeing used-up Elf Bars scattered across high streets at the end of a Saturday night. Nor can I tolerate grown-ups having passionate conversations about their favourite fruity flavours. Here’s to vapes vanishing from our lives for good, in a puff of Pineapple Ice.