Delays in regulatory reform leave children exposed to e-cigarette promotion

19th July 2021

Public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) today [Monday 19th June] criticise the Government for failing to address loopholes that allow children to be given e-cigarettes as freebies although the law bans their sale to under 18s. New findings, published today, also find additional opportunities for regulations to protect children.

It is now two months since the Government should have published its review of e-cigarette and tobacco regulations. ASH, in collaboration with academic collaborative SPECTRUM, provided a thorough response to the consultation on regulations identifying a number of opportunities to regulate products more effectively [1]. This week also marks two years since the Government Green Paper on prevention was published in which ‘bold action’ on tobacco was promised but has still failed to materialise [2].

Interim new findings from ASH, published today in the annual update of its youth survey on e-cigarette use, [3] show there are additional opportunities to protect children. Reducing branding on e-cigarette packaging could reduce their appeal to children while adult smokers are not put off by packaging with less branding.

Youth use of e-cigarettes remains very low in Great Britain with 11% of 11-17 year olds ever having tried vaping and 1.2% currently using the products. However, concerns have been raised about how products are branded and the extent to which they could appeal to children [4].

In questions developed in collaboration with academics at King’s College London and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, respondents were shown a range of different packaging of popular vaping brands to test their appeal. While children were more likely to indicate that currently available branded packs with imagery were appealing compared with those where branding was restricted to the product name, adult smokers had no preference.

Example of currently available starter kit sold in the United Kingdom (UK)

Example of starter kit with branding limited to the product name














Action on Smoking and Health Deputy Chief Executive, Hazel Cheeseman said:

“Currently youth vaping in this country is not a significant problem, but nor do we want one. E-cigarettes have been a powerful tool to help smokers stop and we want to see many more make the switch. However, we also need to do all we can to avoid uptake in young non-smokers. The time is right for the Government to explore how packaging can be made less appealing to children whilst also understanding how we can best expand the appeal of products among adult smokers.” 

Post-doctoral Researcher at King’s College London, Sarah Aleyan said:

“There is little regulation of e-cigarette packaging in the UK. This new research suggests that taking action to regulate e-cigarette packaging could help decrease the appeal of e-cigarettes to children. Given there is still some confusion between vaping and smoking, it is essential that any packaging requirements make clear the distinction between e-cigarettes and tobacco products.”

In June ASH reported that adult smokers were still not switching to vaping in sufficient numbers and poor understanding about the relative safety of e-cigarettes compared to smoking may be inhibiting people from making healthier choices.[5]

In addition to testing some of the biggest brands on the market the charity also tested the appeal to children of ‘candy’ branded e-liquids currently available in the UK. These were not included in the survey of adults and were shown to children in a separate later survey. When the visual elements of the packs were removed a much lower proportion of children expressed a preference for products than for liquids with brand imagery. [6]

Example of the ‘candy’ branded e-liquid shown to children in the survey

Alternative without brand imagery shown to children in the survey













ASH and the SPECTRUM public health research consortium believe it is essential to remove loopholes in the existing regulations which expose children to risk, which they highlighted in their response to the consultation which closed in March 2021. Although regulations outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes to children they can be handed out for free. Companies appear willing to use this loophole with Vype [7] (a BAT product) found to be handing out free samples to young people with no age checks in Bristol, Bath and Brighton and it is likely to have been more widespread than this. The regulations required a report to be published before 20 May 2021, but this did not happen.[ref see 58 (4)]

Action on Smoking and Health Deputy Chief Executive, Hazel Cheeseman said:

“It is unacceptable for it to be legal to hand out e-cigarettes free to children and this is only the most egregious of numerous loopholes in the legislation. The Government post-implementation review should have been published before 20th May this year, but there’s been a deathly silence. When will action be taken to fix this?”


Notes to the Editor

The press release was revised on 21st September 2021 to clarify that the revised packs are still branded, but branding has been limited to the product name.

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview. For more information send an email to or ring Hazel Cheeseman (Deputy Chief Executive, ASH) on 07754 358 593.



[1] ASH and SPECTRUM. Tobacco and related products legislation introduced between 2015 to 2016: reviewing effectiveness. March 2021.

[2] DHSC. Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s – consultation document. 22nd July 2019

[3] ASH. Use of E-cigarettes among Young People in Great Britain. 2021.

2021 ASH Smokefree GB Youth Survey. Total sample size was 2,513 respondents. The online survey was undertaken between 25th March– 16th April 2021. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children aged 11 to 18.

[4] Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned politicians last year against letting history repeat itself by allowing e-cigarettes to be “pushed” at young people.

[5] ASH. Use of E-cigarettes among Adults in Great Britain. 2021.

ASH media release: As NICE consult on new vaping advice, survey shows 90% of smokers don’t know e-cigs are much less harmful than smoking. June 2021

Online survey by YouGov for ASH. Total sample size was 12,247 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th February – 18th March 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[6] 2021 ASH Smokefree GB Youth Survey. A follow-up question about packaging was asked to 1654 respondents between 11th and 24th May 2021. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children aged 11 to 18.

[7] The Guardian. Legal loophole allows children to get free vape samples. October 2020