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Government 'risks harm to health and environment' by not banning disposable vapes

75 per cent of Britons support a ban on disposable vapes.

Around 68 million disposable vapes are thrown away each year in the UK. (Image: Vaping360/Flickr)

Campaigners fighting for a ban on disposable vapes and e-cigarettes have said the government is risking “harm” to people’s health and the environment by not taking immediate action.

Laura Young, an environmental campaigner who used Twitter to kickstart a campaign to #BanDisposableVapes, told the Big Issue: “While the government delays and risks more harm to young people’s health, to waste workers at risk from battery-induced fires, and to the environment, we will continue to raise awareness of the many consequences of these harmful products.”

Young’s response came after environment minister Rebecca Pow said there is “no immediate plan to ban disposable vapes” after another Conservative MP suggested they should be included in the ban on single-use plastics starting in October.

Pow added the government would “consult on policies aimed at driving up levels of separate collection of electric and electronic waste, including vaping devices” as part of separate legislation later in the year.

Young said it was “extremely disappointing and frustrating that the UK government is unwilling to look into the impact single-use disposable vapes are having on both public health and the environment”.

She has called for an immediate ban across the UK, an action which would be supported by 75 per cent of Britons, according to a recent YouGov survey.

While the long-term health risks of vapes are still unknown, studies have found they cause similar damage to the body as cigarettes, if on a smaller scale.

The plastic, nicotine, and lithium-based batteries present in nearly all disposable vapes present environmental problems, as the batteries have been found to start fires in waste disposal centres and pollute the environment

An estimated 68 million disposable vapes are thrown away each year in the UK.

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Young praised a review commissioned by the Scottish government and led by Zero Waste Scotland that will look at banning disposable vapes and examine how other countries have dealt with the product. The Westminster government should follow suit, she said.

A Defra spokesperson told the Big Issue: “All electrical waste should be properly disposed of and recycled to protect our environment – this includes disposable vape pens.

“Our Environmental Improvement Plan sets out our plan to review rules for the collection and recycling of waste electricals this year. As part of this, we will consider what changes in legislation are needed to ensure the vaping sector foots the bill for the collection and treatment of their used products.”

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, also supported a ban. She told the Big Issue: “There’s no reason these throwaway vapes should exist – for the health of the planet and future generations, the government must ban them.”

Green Alliance joined the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPCA, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and 14 other environment and health groups in signing an open letter in November calling for environment secretary Thérèse Coffey and health secretary Steve Barclay to ban disposable vapes.

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Peake also pointed out that vapes contain lithium and copper, “which are vital to low carbon technologies”.

“It’s a scandal that they are being squandered in throwaway e-cigarettes,” she added. 

Nearly 10 tonnes of lithium is being thrown away each year in disposable vapes according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – enough to make batteries for 1,200 electric cars.

No country has yet banned the use of disposable vapes specifically, though the Irish government has also been looking into the impact of the product through a public consultation.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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