Vapes are becoming the new alcopops: How ruthless firms are targeting youngsters with cartoon characters and bubble-gum flavours
- Pictures taken by MailOnline show the colourful vapes being marketed to kids
- This week, Sir Chris Witty slammed the ‘appalling’ actions of vape companies
You’d be forgiven for thinking these vibrant and colourful displays are inside sweet shops.
But they are, in fact, perfect examples of the predatory marketing tactics which are Britain’s child vaping epidemic.
As well as being packaged in an array of eye-catching colours, manufacturers sell e-cigs in child-friendly names and flavours. Some even lure children in using cartoon characters, experts fear.
All of the below displays are paraded in shops on London’s Oxford Street or nearby. Yet it’s a familiar sight everywhere.
Almost every high street in the country now has a designated vape shop and e-cigs are sold for as little as £5 in virtually all newsagents.
Puff Stuff is one of the vape brands being sold in shops, with child-friendly flavours such as vanilla custard and raspberry slush
The brightly coloured displays are seen in shops on Oxford Street labelled as toy, sweet and gift shops
Unlike tobacco, however, the devices don’t need to be hidden away behind shutters, despite some containing as much nicotine as a 50 cigarettes.
Sir Chris Whitty this week called for a major clampdown on firms who get children hooked on e-cigs with their ‘appalling’ marketing tactics.
Giving evidence to the Commons health and social care committee, he demanded officials do ‘everything we can’ to reduce vaping among youngsters.
Despite it being illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under-18s, their use has been surging for years. Figures show rates have tripled in less than a decade.
In a stark warning to MPs, England’s Chief Medical Officer added: ‘I think everyone agrees that marketing vaping… to children is utterly unacceptable.’
READ MORE: Vaping warning for mums-to-be: Study claims risk of miscarriage is up to 2 TIMES higher for certain flavours
And Sir Chris singled out disposable vapes, which include Elf Bars, as being ‘clearly the kinds of products which look as if they’re being marketed at children’.
Vapes are devices which allow you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke, which do not burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide.
But, despite health chiefs insisting it is safer than smoking, it is not risk-free.
E-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers at the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.
Pictures taken by MailOnline show London high streets littered with brightly-lit shops full of colourful vaping products.
Products with names such Nasty Salt, Fruity Clouds and Puff Stuff are found sold in gift and sweet shops, alongside CBS gummy worms and a vape cartoon called Cush Man.
And the devices have child-friendly flavours such as cherry berry, vanilla custard and raspberry slush.
Nasty Juice, one of the other vape brands, has flavours called devil teeth, asap grape and fat boy.
Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care Committee on preventing ill health, Sir Chris said officials must do ‘everything we can’ to reduce vaping among youngsters.
He was asked by Conservative MP Dr Caroline Johnson about vaping becoming a ‘fad’ among teenagers.
Some even have cartoon characters n the vape products, such as this one called Cush Man
Fluorescent vape products can be seen among CBD products such as gummy worms
Another brand of vape is called Fruit Clouds, which has flavorus such as Cherry Berry and Strawberry Apple
Many of the shop displays are covered in fluorescent lights with shelves full of products that could be mistaken for sweets or toys
Despite their bright and child-friendly colours, some of the products contain more than 600 puffs of nicotine
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.’
READ MORE: Chris Whitty demands crackdown on kid vaping epidemic: Covid guru says officials must do ‘everything we can’ to stamp out child e-cig use as he attacks ‘appalling’ marketing tactics
Last month, former health minister and paediatrician Dr Johnson urged MPs to back her bill banning the devices.
She claimed prohibiting the sale of gadgets like the Elf Bar, one Britain’s most popular vaping products, would prevent an ‘epidemic of teenage nicotine addicts’.
Vapes contain ‘known carcinogens’ and have been linked with harms similar to those faced by smokers, Dr Johnson told MPs.
‘E-cigarettes are very new and some members in this House may recall there was a time when cigarettes themselves were considered safe,’ she added.
The gadgets are judged to be much safer than smoking by top experts.
Health officials believe e-cigarettes can play a key role in weaning the remaining 5million smokers in Britain off tobacco and putting an end to the killer habit.
The Government has set an ambition to become the smoke-free by 2030, and sees e-cigarettes as a vital tool to helping people quit.
However, their long-term effect on health remains a mystery and doctors fear a wave of lung disease and even cancer in the coming decades.
Experts also fear the high nicotine content might increase blood pressure and cause other heart problems.
Campaigners have called for vapes to be slapped with graphic cigarette-style warnings — which have been a mainstay of tobacco products in the UK since 2008 — to dissuade young people from picking up the habit.
In this shop, vape products are sold alongside water pipes used for smoking cannabis
Other flavours of Puff Stuff include sour apple, watermelon, strawberry, grape and mint
Some products were found in shops advertising themselves as selling sweets, drinks and gifts
Vape products could be seen with names such as Nasty Juice, coming in flavours called devil teeth, asap grape and fat boy
Despite warning signs on the products, the bright colours from far away could suggest they are sweets
Vapes are currently only required to be sold with labels warning that they contain nicotine.
And a Government-commissioned review published last June recommended a review of vape flavours to ensure they don’t appeal to young people.
The paper, by former children’s charity chief Javed Khan, also recommended that cartoons and images on vaping products be banned.
Nine per cent of pupils aged 11 to 15 vape — the highest rate logged since records began in 2014 — according to NHS Digital data released in September.
Girls appear to be driving the trend, with the vape rate doubling among them in the last three years, while it has remained flat among boys for five years.
The rate rises sharply among older pupils. Among 15-year-olds, one in five girls and one in seven boys vape, compared to one in 100 boys and girls aged 11.
Around three-quarters of current vapers are also regular or occasional smokers. Only three per cent have never smoked.
Friends (45 per cent), newsagents (41 per cent) and relatives (35 per cent) are the most likely sources of e-cigarettes for student vapers.
This year, Waitrose became the first major supermarket to stop selling disposable vapes over worries about youngsters using them, along with concerns about the environment.
Earlier this month, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda removed at least some Elf vape bars from sale after a Mail investigation found certain products contained illegal levels of nicotine.
Another shop found selling vape products on Oxford Street claimed to sell gifts and toys
This shop of Edgware Road sells many types of e-cigarettes in pastel and bright colours
One vape brand called Nasty has several different types of products, such as Nasty Juice and Nasty Salt
Elf bars, one of Britain’s most-used vapes, could be seen filling shelves in many of the shops visited
Professor Stephen Turner, consultant respiratory paediatrician at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, told MailOnline last year: ‘It’s reasonable and proportionate to be really worried about this.
‘Whilst we don’t know for sure long term effects – it’s not going to be healthy because nicotine is addictive and harmful.
‘It makes my blood boil… You walk down any high street and you will see vaping shops with bright-coloured, child friendly flavours.
‘You have to suspect they [companies] are targeting their products – which contain nicotine – to engage people at that critical age to become lifelong addicts.
Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes
How much nicotine is in an e-cigarette?
There are many different brands of e-cigarettes, containing various different nicotine levels.
The legal amount of nicotine in an e-liquid capacity in the UK is 20mg/ml equating to between 600 and 800 puffs.
The Elf Bar 600, one of Britain’s most popular vapes, is advertised as coming in nicotine strengths of 0mg, 10mg and 20mg.
How many cigarettes are ‘in’ an e-cigarette?
The Elf Bar 600 contains the equivalent to 48 cigarettes, analysts say.
It delivers 600 puffs before it needs to be thrown away, meaning, in theory, every 12.5 puffs equate to one cigarette.
Experts say for many e-cigarettes, 100 puffs equate to ten normal cigarettes.
Elf Bars are a brand of e-cigarettes often sold in snazzy colours and with child-friendly names and flavours, like blue razz lemonade and green gummy bear
Is vaping better for your health than cigarettes?
Vaping products are considered to be better than cigarettes as users are exposed to fewer toxins and at lower levels, according to the NHS.
The health service adds that vaping instead of smoking cigarettes reduces your exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease and diseases of the heart and circulation, such as strokes and heart attacks.
Public Health England, which is now defunct, published an expert independent review in 2015 concluding that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.
However vaping is not risk-free, as while levels in tobacco-products are much higher, e-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.
And Dr Onkar Mudhar, a London dentist who posts videos on TikTok, said Elf bars can cause gum inflammation, swelling and bleeding.
He said this is because nicotine dries out your mouth and reduces saliva, causing irritation from a build-up of bacteria and food that can’t get washed away.
Nearly 350 hospitalisations due to vaping were logged in England in 2022, which are thought to be mainly down to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, lung inflammation and, in severe cases, respiratory failure.
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