I used to work in a fast-food restaurant in the centre of Bath. I will not disclose the name but if “e-i-e-i-o” means anything to you then you are on the right track. Yes, I worked late shifts. Yes, I was front of house. So yes, I have seen you all at your worst. Know that if anything happens to me then I am using this platform to publish an account so scathing that the Burn Book from Mean Girls will look like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This could be an entire article unto itself (honourable mention to one of the lacrosse lot who downed an entire pitcher of beer in front of me), but more than the hooligan students turn on a night out, what I mainly had to kick people out for was for vaping. More specifically, children under 18.
You should know reader that I am very much a non-vaper, however, I am not going to spend this article lampooning vaping. I could point to a litany of evidence proving how it is exceptionally bad for you and how the amount of nicotine in one bar is equivalent to about 50 cigarettes. But I won’t, mainly because my proofreader smokes them like an asthmatic Thomas the Tank Engine. As a rule, I avoid criticising the coping methods of the people who have editing privileges. What I am going to object to is the advertising, selling, and smoking of both disposable and standard vape pens to minors.
Under The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, it is illegal to sell any form of nicotine product to anyone under the age of 18, including e-cigarettes in all their forms. Except we all know that is not true. Corner shops are notorious for doing just that, even so far as many cashiers believe that the minimum age to sell vape pens is 16. I start to question Hanlon’s razor (never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity) as UK law is so immensely clear about the prohibition to minors, so far that it says as much on the packaging.
Whilst working, I often asked the usual suspects where they get them from in the city and they could name five different shops in the centre of Bath alone. The most common answer was actually that they got them from an older sibling, classmate or even parent. And research backs this up. According to an NHS survey: “61% of regular e-cigarette users said other people gave them e-cigarettes [and] buying from any kind of shop increased from 29% in 2018 to 57% in 2021, with newsagent the most common type of shop (41%)”.
I understand that writing about this in a student paper may not exactly be preaching to the intended audience. The number of pres I have been to which felt like breathing in a strawberry and melon flavoured tail pipe affirms this*. Yet I think it is this very culture which is having a knock-on effect, making younger people think it is acceptable and normalising vaping recreationally. For me, this is most evident in marketing.
Now whether you think that advertising either controls our behaviour and habits or is a reaction to it – a good way to measure the consensus of a demographic in society is by how they are sold to (with a bonus of letting me show off my Media Studies A-level and prove it’s not useless). Taking another look at The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016: “Marketing … must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise e-cigarettes if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years of age”.
Unfortunately for advertisers, young adults use the exact social platforms which teenagers do. TikTok is one such platform used by half of eight to 11-year-olds and three-quarters of 16 to 17-year-olds. So, any marketing made on the platform will be ‘indirectly’ and inevitably seen by a significant amount of minors. The bright colours, sweet flavours and use of popular influencers – whose videos are not age-restricted – definitely appeal to the sensibilities of children, despite the plausible deniability asserted by vaping brands.
These products use the maximum amount of nicotine they are legally allowed (2%), appeal to the youth market and are designed as a purely disposable form of smoking. 1.3 million disposable e-cigarettes are thrown away each week, and so many of these end up in the wrong bin or just the gutter. Used e-cigarettes are designated as Waste Electronic Electrical Equipment (or the rather wonderful acronym WEEE), as their battery can be especially harmful when disposed of incorrectly.
Something needs to change. This article is not intended as a ‘wake-up call’ or moral challenge – you are all grown-ups; you know what you are putting in your bodies. All I am saying is that these brands tread the line as to who their products end up with and play fast and loose with the legality of their products – whose effects we really do not know all that much about. Well, that’s not strictly true. Whoever blew smoke rings across the counter and then decided to run their burger through it like some kind of edible Tony Hawk – hats off to you.
* Proofreader’s Note: Despite what he may have you believe; Tom is very boring and has not been out in months.
Dissertation-worthy list of sources: