There is currently a 'loophole' allowing retailers to give free vape samples to children and teens.
The problem is that 'vaping' isn't caught by most of the rules and prohibitions aimed at tobacco and 'smoking'. When vaping is caught by the broader definitions of 'nicotine products', the regulations specifically prohibiting the sale of any nicotine products to people under 18 don't stop companies from giving away free samples.
And it does seem to be a real problem. In the past year, thousands of children in the UK were given a free vape, according to data from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).
This loophole is set to be closed under government plans to curb the use of vapes among young people.
Whilst there doesn't appear to be much evidence that vaping companies are deliberately targeting children and teens, at least not the bigger, more established companies, some unscrupulous businesses are clearly doing so.
The BBC reports that there has been a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023. This is based on a YouGov survey in March and April 2023 for Action on Smoking and Health.
Disposable vapes come in an array of bright colours, and a wide range of flavours. They are proving popular among teens.
The BBC reports that "Two out of five young people said they had smoked vapes "just to give it a try" and one in five because "other people use them, so I join in." "Teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the increased availability of the products and the fact that some pupils say they have become addicted to nicotine through vaping."
There will also be a review into the rules around the sale of "nicotine-free" products to under-18s, which are seen by some as a gateway or habit forming route to nicotine products, which can be purchased legally by over 18s.
The Prime Minister has personally expressed concern over this issue. "The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good," he said.
A recent BBC investigation found that illegal vapes confiscated from school pupils contained far higher levels of lead, nickel and chromium than deemed safe. The prime minister said he was shocked by this finding.
The government plans include a review of rules on fines for shops selling illicit vapes. The plans are said to have been welcomed by the UK Vaping Industry Association, which has been calling for a clampdown for some time. It is reported that most vapes are bought from corner shops. It wants to see local trading standards officials issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices to shops who sell vapes to under-age people.
Prof Chris Whitty, the UK government's chief medical adviser, said this is a "very welcome step". While there are some positive uses for vapes, including helping adult smokers to kick the habit of smoking cigarettes, Prof Whitty said that he was concerned some companies are "clearly marketing these products at children".
He will no doubt also welcome the fact that children aged 11-13 will be given an educational resource to inform them about the dangers, including the addictiveness of nicotine and the evidence that their developing brains may be more sensitive to its effects.
Labour says that more can and should be done, and the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting pledged the "next Labour government will come down like a tonne of bricks on those pushing vapes to kids".
Health Minister Neil O'Brien called any marketing of vaping products to children "shameful", and said the government would further review the rules to prevent them becoming a "gateway" to cigarettes [particularly for children]. Deborah Arnott, Ash chief executive, welcomed the government's actions but said the prime minister's proposals were just "baby steps", and called for a minimum price of £5 to be imposed in order to price out young buyers.