The vaping landscape in England varies from other countries, in part because of recent changes to regulations and also because of the changing demographics of vape users.
Adults have increasingly adopted vaping over recent years, and seeing how the industry has developed can help illuminate what we can expect in the future.
A review of media and government publications offers much-needed insight into the country's recent vaping developments and behaviour. Below, you’ll find a summary of the current landscape in the UK, including a closer look into vaping use among young people vs adults, recent changes and developments, and possible impacts of vaping on smoking cessation and reduction.
Recent Vaping Developments
Recent developments worth noting include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, new or changing government regulations, and safety reviews on the products compared to cigarettes.
Covid-19 and Vaping—No Known Connections
The first development is the impact of the Coronavirus worldwide — it has impacted vape users throughout the country.
At the start of the pandemic, various parties raised concerns about potential links between vaping and Coronavirus. However, public health officials and researchers have been cautious about making definitive connections. Indeed, experts say it’s “impossible” to determine any causal relation at this point.
Vaping is still relatively new, so it's still too early to accurately judge its impact in relation to Covid-19. It’s also still early yet to predict the effect of this black swan event on industry behaviours as a whole. More research will need to be done in the coming years to gain a more full-picture understanding.
New Vaping Regulations
Several new regulations and changes to long-standing ones impacting the control and sale of e-cigarette products affect vape users in the UK.
For one, there are new changes within The Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products Regulations 2020 (TRPR). These amendments ensure the country meets its obligations to control vape product policies, including a new system to notify the sale of vaping products and eliminate double-paid fees. Other regulations are under review within the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Act 2020 (better known as Brexit).
This body may also review regulations around non-nicotine-containing products. While medicinally licensed nicotine vapes are exempt from the TRPR, there are no products of this sort that are currently licensed.
However, some authorities from Britain's National Health Services (NHS) and National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) may consider allowing prescribed vaping for medicinal use as a possible way for a tobacco smoker to quit smoking.
Amendments to Follow Safety Reviews
A 2007 act made it illegal for anyone under 18 to buy or use tobacco products. However, a loophole in the legislation still allows people of any age to receive samples of vaping products, so regulators are working to address that.
The UK has received 231 reports of adverse reactions and three fatalities linked to e-cigarette devices since 2016. Still, a review of safety by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products, and the Environment found an expected lower risk of adverse health effects from vaping products than cigarettes.
In 2019, the government set a lofty goal that may influence this and future behaviour regarding the vape industry: to create a smoke-free England by 2030, with smokers either quitting altogether or moving to vape products.
Vaping Among Young People
Data from the ASH-Youth Survey show that smoking prevalence in youth aged 11-18 has changed very little since 2015. It was 7.1% then, and it's 6.7% now.
Vaping levels among young people also have only changed slightly. The percentage of people who vape at least once per month is around 4.8%, the same as in 2019.
The UK government has made a concerted effort to normalise e-cigarettes and vapes as a product intended for people who wish to quit smoking. Positioning e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid may be partly responsible for record low numbers of young people who are not already smokers adopting e-cigarettes for the first time.
Vaping Among Adults
The smoking prevalence in the UK among adults continues to fall, landing somewhere around 6-7 million smokers currently, according to 2021 data from Public Health England. However, vaping prevalence is even lower than smoking, equating to less than 3 million adult vapers.
Vaping is more prevalent among current and former smokers, yet the proportion of vapers who also smoke cigarettes continues to decline from 74% in 2012 to just 38%, according to ASH survey results.
Long-term vapers may be on the rise. The proportion of current vapers who have vaped for 3+ years has increased from 23.7% in 2018 to 39.2% in 2020.
Why might these adults be turning to vaping?
Most commonly, it's because they wanted to quit smoking, stay off cigarettes, or reduce their overall tobacco use. In an OPN 2019 survey, a total of 52.8% of current vapers reported that they started using vape products to quit smoking.
Overall, adults who vape and have a history of smoking feel less addicted to vaping than smoking.
Effect of Vaping on Smoking Cessation and Reduction
There have been some interesting discoveries concerning the effects of vaping on smoking cessation or reduction.
Some notable findings from ASH studies and English stop smoking services data include:
- The use of vape products is the most popular aid to quit smoking.
- Vape users positively associate vaping with quitting smoking. One statistic highlights that over 50k smokers ditched their cigarette habit by switching to a vaping product in 2017.
- Licensed medical practitioners believe that e-cigarette products may be a more effective cessation aid than medications such as varenicline.
- The most successful cessation attempts involve using a licensed medicine followed by a vape product.
Additionally, the NHS has rolled out numerous initiatives to improve smokers’ access to e-cigarettes and vape products. Measures include:
- Granting permits for vape shops to operate on the premises of public hospitals
- A trial project where Accident & Emergency patients who smoke and were admitted for any injury were given a free e-cigarette kit
The vaping landscape in the UK continues to evolve in response to social and global events as well as changing regulations and demographics of vape users. Many smokers turn to vapes to quit their tobacco habit.For more information on vaping and devices that enable reliable vape use, look to RELX UK.