Is the UK heading toward an underage Vaping “Epidemic”?
The current state of youth vaping in the UK is something that seems to be getting more and more attention from the media and news outlets. And the reports from reliable, reputable sources are showing that youth vaping in the UK is at an all time high with the reason for this being one thing; Disposable vapes.
The question in topic of this article is that – is the UK heading towards a “youth vape epidemic” like the USA experienced in 2018-2020? I’m going to look into similarities of the current state here and what it was like in America, what needs to be done to combat this and what could happen if intervention doesn’t happen soon.
The Youth Vaping ‘Epidemic’ in America
Turning back the hands of time to the year 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declares in a statement that E-Cigarette use amongst youths of America has hit epidemic levels, and he puts it down to the “particularly high nicotine strength disposable pod mods” causing the new generation of young people to become addicted to Nicotine unnecessarily, and putting them at even more risk of health implications by using these and potentially going on to combustible tobacco products (cigarettes).
Stating the situation to be at epidemic levels meant the FDA needed to intervene immediately and start combatting this sudden spike and rise in the amount of youth vapers in the USA. The biggest demand by parents, teachers, doctors, and all other professionals involved in this epidemic was for the FDA to target one company, and come down hard on them for their specific youth targeted advertising of their products and this company was….JUUL.
JUUL in America
I won’t dive into the whole history of JUUL, I’ll just begin at the relevant dates of when it first came about within the USA.
In 2015, PAX Labs launched the JUUL devices in America by hosting a launch party attended by mostly young adults (of legal smoking/vaping age), where free kits were distributed to all attendees. They were encouraged to take selfies and “tell all their friends” about how good JUUL is. An early sign that JUUL were going to be targeting a younger audience with their products.
By July 2017, JUUL sales skyrocket 700% and they report that over 1 million JUUL units had been sold in the USA by November 2017, nothing short of extraordinary. Everything was going well for JUUL, with sales continuing to rise in the USA, as well as here in the UK and across Europe.
But the hype train started grinding to a firm halt in March 2018, with multiple sources including USA Today, reporting that JUUL is responsible for a sudden surge in underage users of JUUL products, and creating a new craze in high schools across the country.
JUUL’s targeted advertising
As I mentioned, it was clear JUUL were setting out specifically target their products at a younger audience, but how did they do this?
JUUL always categorically denied that they deliberately marketed their products at a younger audience, but looking back at their advertising campaigns back in 2017, it shows that they bought advertising time on Nickelodeon & Cartoon Network, TV channels that showed programmes aimed at younger people, Seventeen magazine, a publication aimed at 14-17 year olds, as well as printing huge posters and billboards scattered across America in strategic positions, like near schools or parks. Looking back at old JUUL promo posters, they all feature young models, both male and female, using and promoting a JUUL device. The flavours of the pods also might appeal to a younger user, with Vanilla Crème and Mango being popular sellers next to Tobacco, and Menthol flavours.
JUUL also had a presence at movie and music events, using good-looking young people to hand out free JUUL kits to “like-minded” people so they could experience it for themselves. And they exploited social media where young as well as underage users use it daily and filled it full of colourful adverts for their products. Remember colourful attractive designs appealing to younger people…it comes back up later in this article.
JUUL also set up stores and got their products in stores close to schools and University campuses across the country of the USA. So, was this all a ploy by JUUL or was it just a coincidence? Did JUUL really aim to target their product at young people and cause this epidemic? Let’s see just how bad things are in the USA.
The statistics of the Youth Vaping Epidemic in the USA
Earlier this year, a study was completed for the FDA (Food and Drug Administration USA) on the use of e-cigarettes amongst underage users in Middle and High Schools. To give you an insight, Middle school age in the USA is 11-13 years old and High School age is 14-18 years old; And reading these statistics is truly shocking at just how bad things are in America.
Frequency of Use:
Among the youth who currently used e-cigarettes within the USA, 43.6% of high school students and 17.2% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes on 20 or more of the past 30 days at survey. Also, among current users of e-cigarettes, more than 1 in 4 (27.6%) high school students and about 1 in 12 (8.3%) middle school students who used e-cigarettes used them daily.
Device Type Use:
Among youth who currently used e-cigarettes, the most commonly used e-cigarette device type was disposables (53.7%), followed by prefilled or refillable pods or cartridges (28.7%), and tanks or mod systems (9.0%).
Among youth who currently used e-cigarettes, 84.7% used flavoured e-cigarettes including 85.8% of high school and 79.2% of middle school users. Overall, the most commonly used flavour types were fruit; candy, desserts, or other sweets; mint; and menthol. (Note that these results refer to flavours other than tobacco.)
As I said, shocking numbers to read and I certainly feel that the moniker of “epidemic” is something that is deserved.
But the statistics in America aren’t that far off to what’s being reported here in the UK in recent reports, with the use of e-cigarettes amongst underage users slowly creeping up to borderline alarming levels, so are we on track to experience our own epidemic here in the UK?
Disposable Vapes in the UK
If you follow vaping, you’ll know about the current boom in Disposable Vape use amongst the vaping community. The latest “trend” that has took over in the Vaping world, and unfortunately causing no end of problems and unwanted attention from the media and news outlets.
Disposable Vapes, such as Elfbars and Geekbars have took the market by storm, and are being sold in nearly every corner shop, petrol station, major supermarket and vape shops across the country. But this newfound craze is posing some serious threat to the future and longevity of vaping in the UK with their negative effects that’s being reported.
They are terrible for the environment due to them not being able to be recycled due to containing a Lithium-Ion battery inside the device, so they’re entering landfills in their millions every single month.
They are the most counterfeited vaping related product being sold within the UK, with news reports coming out every week of thousands of them are being seized from unreputable outlets that aren’t vape shops selling them to unsuspecting customers as well as underage users.
And they are at the forefront for the sudden hike in underage users of e-cigarettes in the UK. A report by Action on Smoking and Health this month showed an alarming rate of underage users are using Disposable vapes, let’s take a look at it.
Underage vaping in the UK
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) are a public health charity made up of a team from the Royal College and Physicians based in the UK that works specifically to try and end the harm caused by tobacco.
They’ve been at the forefront of vaping research and publishing their findings ever since 2016 and have always been a very reliable and reputable source of information for myself and others alike.
Recently, they released a publication aimed at schools and parents giving information about the current state of vaping amongst children in the UK. And the results make for interesting reading.
ASH surveyed 2613 young people aged 11-18 in Great Britain. 10% of 11-15 year olds ever having tried vaping, 29% of 16 and 17 year olds, and 41% of 18 year olds. The results showed that most youth vaping is experimental rather than a consistent thing amongst young users.
Reference ASH 2022
Underage users that have tried vaping has grown from 14% to 16%, while tired smoking has fallen from 16% to 14%. Regular vaping has grown from 1.7% to 3.3% while occasional use has grown from 2.4% to 3.9%.
A slightly alarming statistic recorded was that 56% of 11-17 year olds were aware of e-cigarette promotion, specifically disposable vaping products, within shops and online. With people surveyed saying the presence of advertisements were most seen on TikTok and Instagram.
So are disposable vape companies following the same road as JUUL were and targeting a specific audience that’s leading to this borderline epidemic?
Is Targeted Marketing happening in the UK?
Elfbar have come under a lot of scrutiny and criticization of late, due to their targeted marketing approach to appeal to younger people. They recently were banned from TikTok after they were sending out large boxes of free Elfbars to Influencers, who coincidentally were younger people (over 18) with a large following of young audiences. The influencers were then doing videos showing what they had been sent and promoting the products. Vape companies are not allowed to promote Tobacco related products on social media, so this was a very underhanded approach to get round the ban.
Remember I said earlier on in the article about bright, vibrant colours on JUUL’s adverts appealing to younger audiences coming back up in the article? Here’s where we discuss it again, by looking at the picture below, see if you spot the similarities…
All disposable vape companies have received criticism for the fact they’re using bright and vibrant colours on their vapes and the flavour profiles they use in their vapes being hugely appealing to a younger audience.
The similarities between the state of things in America, to where we are in the UK currently is scary, and a lot closer than I realised.
I personally don’t think we will reach ‘epidemic’ levels like that of America, with the amount of underage users reaching the percentage levels that they have overseas but it’s certainly heading towards choppy waters unless intervention by the appropriate bodies happens.
Disposable Vapes are a problem, and are slowly unravelling all the hard work of the vaping industry had done to get Vaping looked at in a positive light. If something isn’t done regarding them soon, the future of vaping could start to look very bleak.