Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Youth Vaping

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07290, in the name of Siobhian Brown, on concern regarding youth vaping. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes reports of concern regarding vaping and a surge in young people using e-cigarettes; believes that vaping products are not for children, young people or non-smokers and are useful only as a potential route towards stopping smoking; understands from reports that there is potentially strong evidence that e-cigarettes, which can be bright and colourful and come in thousands of e-liquid flavours, can increase attractiveness to children and young people; further understands that the long-term risks of vaping cannot yet be definitively confirmed by research studies; considers that these products are not harmless and are a risk to the long-term health of young people, and notes the view that it is important to highlight this for forthcoming generations in Ayr and across the country.


Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

I thank everybody who has supported the motion and those who are taking part in the debate. I am really looking forward to all contributions.

I lodged the motion for a members’ business debate as a mother and as an elected representative with a genuine, deep concern for our children who are vaping. I believe that, as elected representatives, we have a moral duty to protect constituents where we can, and that the vaping of our children and young people is among the biggest health risks that our youth currently face.

In the past decade or so, vaping has grown significantly as an alternative option to smoking traditional cigarettes. There is a mindset that vaping or smoking electronic cigarettes is safer. We know that it is cheaper. Do not get me wrong: if vaping is a pathway for somebody to give up smoking, that is great, and I fully support that. My issue relates to our children who have never smoked and are taking up vaping as it is deemed to be safer than cigarettes. In my humble opinion, the marketing and advertising of vaping products is targeted at that generation.

Eighteen months ago, there were chocolate-coated nuts and snacks at the till at my local supermarket. Now there are colourful flavoured vapes. In another local supermarket, a huge display of colourful flavoured vapes has just appeared in the health aisle. There are vapes at the tills in pound shops. They are advertised everywhere.

A packet of 20 cigarettes is currently around £12. I can get a vape for £4. That is 600 puffs, which could be the equivalent of 45 cigarettes. Those vapes come in a wide selection of colours and flavours. I have been told that some teenagers co-ordinate their outfits with the colours of vapes. There are thousands of flavours online—watermelon, sweet cherry, banana ice, cherry cola and blueberry are just a few. There are too many flavours to name in this debate. If we had cigarettes with those flavours rather than with a tobacco taste 50 years ago, how popular would they be? We know now in hindsight that those cigarettes still hooked previous generations and caused harmful damage.

In the age of the internet, we have the likes of TikTok influencers showcasing their vape collections and teaching young viewers how to do their best vaping tricks. They make it a hobby and something fun. If anybody doubts that and has access to TikTok, they should do a search on “my first vape”.

Despite it being illegal to sell the devices to under-18s, research indicates a steep rise in underage vaping over the past five years. According to ASH Scotland, the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds who say that they use e-cigarettes has doubled in the past 12 months alone. A new survey, which was conducted by Opinion Matters and was published by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland yesterday, shows that, in 1,000 responses, 85 per cent were concerned about young people vaping, 83 per cent were concerned about the use of vaping products by children and young people in schools, and 82 per cent were concerned about the marketing and promotion of vaping products to children and young people.

There have been claims that there is no evidence of young people taking up vaping, but we all have eyes, and we all see it. Ask the teachers and the kids. They will say exactly how many kids are vaping.

At the beginning of 2022, a freedom of information request by The Courier found that primary 3 children were caught bringing vapes into schools in Fife and Dundee. That is really worrying. I have also heard of primary school children finding used vapes on the ground and picking them up to see how many puffs are left.

Vaping is fairly new, and we do not have an analysis of its long-term impact on lungs. Those are adult lungs—we definitely do not have any analysis of its impact on developing young lungs. The World Health Organization believes that vaping devices are harmful to health and must be regulated. It has stated:

“the evidence is clear that the aerosols of the majority of”

vape products

“contain toxic chemicals, including nicotine and substances that can cause cancer.”

It has stated that their use is

“associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and lung disorders”.

An article in The BMJ stated that children with asthma who were exposed to second-hand vapour at home have a 30 per cent increased risk of an asthma attack. The researchers also pointed out that lung disease and, in the worst-case scenario, deaths have been reported in relation to vaping.

Vapes are not harmless. Behind the colours and the delicious flavours, there is nicotine. As we know, that is the addictive product. The issue is not only the damage done to the lungs of the next generation but the next generation being lured into nicotine addiction.

The problem of vaping and our youth exists not only in Scotland. It is a global concern, and we have seen countries around the world take action. Flavours in vapes’ e-liquids have been banned in Austria and Hungary. Lithuania and Finland have banned all flavours except tobacco. Denmark has banned all flavours except tobacco and menthol. Menthol-flavoured vapes are banned in Estonia, and flavours except tobacco have been banned in the Netherlands as of this month. There are also plans to ban flavours in Spain, Latvia, Slovakia and Ireland. It is interesting that China, which is the biggest global exporter of vapes, has banned flavours domestically in light of concerns about youth vaping, although it still exports flavours around the world.

I would like flavours to be banned from disposable vapes so that they are not as attractive to our younger generation. The minister is aware that I am exploring a member’s bill to pursue that. I welcome the fact that the Greens want disposable vapes to be banned, and the cabinet secretary has confirmed that there will be an environmental assessment of the impact of disposable vapes. However, serious consideration should be given to a health assessment of the impact on those in our younger generation who are vaping.

There are things that we can do to mitigate, such as banning disposable vapes or removing the flavours, but they will take time to go through the whole legislative process. We are talking about a crisis of our children’s health, and we must act now. We do not have time to waste.

There are things that the Scottish Government can do now within its legislative power. Through the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016, ministers have powers to restrict the domestic advertising of nicotine vapour products. Vapes could be placed alongside cigarettes, with promotions, flavours, colours and designs being out of view. That is one thing that we could do now to be proactive in protecting our kids.

As a country, we have come far in tackling smoking. We now have a moral obligation to protect our young people and not to undo all the progress that we have made. Across the chamber, regardless of our political colours, we need to come together on this really important issue and do what we can to protect future generations.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in this very important debate. I thank my friend and colleague Siobhian Brown for bringing it to the chamber and for her very informative speech.

We are discussing an issue that has three components. First, vapes can be beneficial to adults who are attempting to quit smoking. Anything that helps to beat a nicotine addiction must be good, although the jury is still out on whether vapes are an entirely safe way of giving up.

Secondly, there is the serious issue of the harm that disposable vapes are doing to our parks, rivers and beaches. It has been estimated that, every week across the United Kingdom, a staggering 1.3 million disposable vapes pollute our land with single-use plastic and lithium batteries—which, incidentally, are very hazardous to children and pets. I know that my Green colleagues in the Parliament are running a very effective campaign against those along with the Daily Record campaign, and that the Scottish Government is very supportive of that.

The third component, which is the subject of the debate, is the one that I want to focus on: the harmful effects of vaping on our young people. We know that, in recent years, there has been an alarming rise in the number of children who are taking up the habit, as Siobhian Brown expertly articulated. Crucially, vapes are not recommended for non-smokers, and they cannot be sold to people who are under 18, but that has been cynically undermined by an insidious and aggressive marketing campaign. As Siobhian Brown said, there is an extensive range of sweet, fruit-flavoured vapes in bright, so-called “cool” packaging that is designed to get youngsters hooked. Does that remind members of anything? Alcopops perhaps?

Children as young as seven have been found with vapes at school. Doctors have warned of the long-term damage to developing lungs. There is also evidence that second-hand vaping increases the risk of bronchial damage in young people.

In researching for the debate, I was shocked to discover low-priced hoodies, online backpacks, watches and pens that are designed to help youths to vape undetected by parents or teachers. Those are the so-called “cool” products that are clearly targeted at young people. What on earth is going on? Tobacco companies are targeting youngsters to buy products that harm them by producing merchandise to entice them. I do not know about other members, but I think that parents these days have enough to worry about regarding the protection of their children without global companies weighing in to make money.

We know that more and more countries throughout the world are banning youth-targeted vapes—Siobhian Brown listed those. Vapes or e-cigarettes are devices that allow people to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, which are two of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke. However, a lot of work has been done globally to try to prevent people—particularly young people—from starting to smoke. The Scottish Government’s smoking ban has been particularly effective in that regard.

What can we do about the issue? Asthma + Lung UK Scotland and other organisations have called on the Government to restrict in-store displays, advertising and sponsorship among other measures. Who could argue with that? Despite Scotland’s restricted powers over consumer law, there are measures that we can take. I agree with Siobhian Brown that we should take them immediately. We should take them before another generation gets hooked on yet another drug.

The evidence that vapes are harmful to the young is growing every day. I suspect that, when the full effects of vapes are known, it may well be too late for too many young people.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am pleased to be able to contribute, and I thank Siobhian Brown for bringing this important debate to the chamber. As Asthma + Lung UK Scotland’s parliamentary smoking cessation champion and a co-convener of the cross-party group on lung health, this subject is very close to my heart. Through the CPG, I have worked with Asthma + Lung UK’s breathe easy support group in Clackmannanshire in my region. Working with those groups, as well as with patients and health professionals on the cross-party group, gives immense insight into the harm that comes from smoking. We also understand the sheer magnitude of the ticking time bomb that we have on our hands with vaping.

The issue is Scotland’s potential next disaster. Scotland is seeing by default, arguably, a fast-evolving young group of individuals who are taking on vaping as a result of clever but cynical marketing. A recent survey by Asthma + Lung UK shows that there have been many reports of children of primary school age being caught using vaping products, with some as young as six or seven. In September 2022, Dr Jonathan Coutts, a consultant neonatal and respiratory paediatrician, talked to our cross-party group on lung health about the potential effects and about bronchitis symptoms in young people as a result of exposure to second-hand vaping.

Although the sale and purchase of nicotine vapour products to and by under-18s is banned in Scotland, the products are typically still finding their way into the hands of ever-younger individuals and users. Rather sadly, the evidence will be borne out through the passage of time, but we already know that the products are not risk free.

Our lungs were only ever designed to intake oxygen from the air that we breathe. The flavours are passed by the food industry, but they will harm young people and individuals for generations to come. Why do we allow young users to deal with such difficulties and harmful chemicals? We have yet to decide and understand the full possibilities of where this will take us. Vaping is simply a marketing tool. As has been discussed, it is being used like an alcopop, with bright colours and attractive sweet flavours.

The member mentioned flavours that are approved for food but, just because something is approved for food does not mean that it is okay to go into people’s lungs. Is that correct?

Alexander Stewart

I completely concur with that. As I said, they are not there for that specific use or to be ingested in that way; they are there for the food impact.

I mentioned the attractive sweet flavours. Kids have to deal with peer pressure and people saying, “Go on—just have a try.” We know that that happens regularly. As ASH Scotland has talked about in the past, vaping among young people is now becoming a real danger. It talks about marketing and the use of significant measures to ensure that we do not have that. Vaping is being normalised and youngsters are seeing that it is okay, but it certainly is not okay. Young developing lungs and brains are especially vulnerable to the harms that could come from vaping, so it is vital that we challenge that marketing.

Vaping is also a huge problem for the environment. Last year on the BBC, we heard about the batteries, plastics, metals and stainless steel that are involved. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to ensure that there was a big noise about recycling and plastics.

In conclusion, it is now time to regroup, to put a spotlight on the issue and to make collective efforts to deal with the marketing issues before it is too late. Certainly, before we get to another health or environmental catastrophe, we need to take the issue seriously.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I thank Siobhian Brown for securing the debate, which is on an issue of increasing urgency. According to the BBC Radio 4 programme “All Consuming”, the global market for vapes has grown exponentially over the past decade. In the United Kingdom, there are now about 4.5 million regular vapers, served by nearly 3,000 specialist shops and stores and a growing number of online retailers, which I will raise specific concerns about later.

We all share concerns over the increasingly aggressive marketing strategies that are being deployed by vaping companies. As the motion makes clear, many of the products are transparently targeted towards younger people and—make no mistake—that means children at primary school, too.

Research has shown that the use of nicotine at a young age has various negative impacts on the development of the brain. A Danish study commissioned by the Council on Health and Disease Prevention notes that the number of children and young people who consume smokeless nicotine products has increased considerably in the past five to 10 years. Today, children and young people are exposed to a growing selection of nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, pouches, snuff and chewing tobacco among others.

I have been engaged with trading standards officers locally and nationally over this issue, and they have presented to the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness. The problems posed by marketing techniques are frequently of concern. In contrast to tobacco, which cannot be openly displayed and is now packed in standardised brown packaging, nicotine vaping products are openly displayed, are usually cheaper and are supplied in a variety of colours and flavours that are appealing to young people.

From a North Lanarkshire Council perspective, according to trading standards officers, they have a steady flow of complaints throughout the year alleging the sale of vapes to persons under the age of 18. The trend seems to be more about vapes as opposed to attempted tobacco purchases.

The Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland—SCOTSS—has pointed to the increasing complexity of the regulatory landscape. When vaping products started to emerge, it was hoped that they would be used exclusively as an effective tool for helping people to quit smoking, but there is a demonstrable shift to marketing strategies that are designed to target young people and those who are non-smokers. Through its research, SCOTSS has received complaints from parents of children as young as 13. Slick promotions, eye-catching displays and the greater availability compared to traditional tobacco products all lead to a risk of the indoctrination of a generation of young vapers.

That is happening before our eyes but, to combat it, we have a confused regulatory landscape that is uncertain of where these new products sit when it comes to device safety, batteries, environmental considerations, age restrictions and advertising and marketing.

On online availability, trading standards officers frequently test products that have illegal substances in them or more nicotine than is currently allowed in the UK. Buying those products is a very dangerous practice.

On the environment, these disposable devices should not be put in household waste or in a recycling bin. They have lithium-ion batteries, so they should be returned to the retailer or disposed of at a local centre. The fact that they are so prevalent in our environment and are just being discarded by people is a real concern.

I again thank Siobhian Brown for her work in this area. The landscape has shifted. We face the same fight but against something in a flashier colour and with a sweeter taste. Nonetheless, we are behind in this race, and we need to catch up.


Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

I congratulate the member for Ayr on securing this members’ business debate, which ensures that this topic is given the prominence that it deserves in this chamber. I was pleased to sign her motion. She is not alone in noticing the huge rise in the number of young people who are vaping, which should be a cause for concern for every one of us.

The rise in the number of young people using disposable vapes is clearly an issue, and we are not alone in thinking that it is. Research by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland shows that 83 per cent of Scots are concerned about the use of vaping products in schools and that 82 per cent are concerned about the marketing of such products. There is an obligation on us to respond to those concerns. Although there remains some dubiety about the long-term health risks, I believe that it would be foolish to assume anything other than that vapes are, ultimately, bad for young people and for the wider public. That is the basis on which we, as legislators, should determine our public health response.

I agree with the calls for increased regulation of such products, particularly disposable vapes, given the environmental damage that they cause, but I remain unconvinced by the calls for outright prohibition and a blanket ban. The reason for that is quite simple: I do not think that outright prohibition works in reducing the harm of any so-called vice in society. As we have seen throughout history, attempts to ban products such as alcohol or drugs often lead to a black market—unregulated trade that is dominated by organised crime—which often makes the problem worse.

That said, however, I believe that we have to be more diligent in the regulation of the industry. It seems perverse to me that we put cigarettes behind shutters and regulate packaging to make cigarettes less attractive but we allow vapes to be displayed prominently in shop windows in shiny, colourful packages, which are clearly designed to attract younger people to try them out. Indeed, just yesterday, a constituent sent me an email about a store in Glasgow that advertises vapes right next to slushies and desserts of the same flavour. That is clearly and cynically designed to manipulate young people’s consumer habits.

I do not know whether anyone is a fan of “Mad Men” but, in the pilot episode, which is set in the 1960s, Lucky Strike is concerned about Reader’s Digest first reporting the risk of cancer from cigarettes, so it decides to market them with the slogan “It’s toasted” to make them sound more benign and less potentially hazardous for consumers. That shows that a deceptive form of marketing that tries to seduce people into thinking that products are benign—whether it is cigarettes or, potentially, vapes—has long been a characteristic of the tobacco industry and similar vendors.

If the health risks are deemed to be similar, the regulation and policy response must surely be equally stringent. I would like the Government to explore that when considering a response to this growing problem. When dealing with increased regulation, we also need to consider the sanctions for those who are caught selling such products to under-18s. Anecdotally, it seems that young people under the age of 18 find getting hold of vaping products easier than getting hold of cigarettes, and we have to look at why that is the case. Clearly, the regulations that the Government introduced in April 2017 are proving to be ineffective in that regard. I am in favour of tougher sanctions on shopkeepers to ensure that they are suitably deterred from illegally selling such products.

In addition to the potential health risks, there are environmental concerns about the prevalence of disposal vapes. Those concerns have merit, so Labour supports, in principle, the Government’s position on a ban on disposable vape products. I hope that further study will show that that would result in a reduction in the levels of youth vaping.

As I said earlier, I am generally sceptical of outright bans, but it would be worth while to carry out an exercise to see whether we can reduce harm. At the very least, we need to make such products look significantly less attractive to young people, and we need to deal with the environmental impact of their use. If a ban is not appropriate, we should consider whether a return scheme of some description could be rapidly introduced to minimise the impact of their use on the environment.

We clearly have a problem on our hands, and the policy response to it will need to be multifaceted and measured. Taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut will not solve the issue. This is a perfect example of the need for us, as legislators, to know our limits. In the long term, although we might not want to introduce an outright ban, I hope that regulations of the kind that we have discussed today might exert a more positive influence on consumer behaviour in order to reduce public health risks and the environmental harms that we see today.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate my colleague Siobhian Brown on securing debating time on this important matter.

With sweet flavours, colourful packaging and low prices, it is no wonder that vapes are considered to be a pocket money-friendly product by teenagers—a cohort that vape manufacturers are obviously keen to attract. A 2022 report from Action on Smoking and Health Scotland revealed that 16 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds have tried vaping and that, of those, 40 per cent had never smoked. Although vape usage is considered to be much less harmful than smoking, the long-term effects are still unknown, and we have already heard about the severe impact on the environment.

Some vapes include toxic chemicals that have not been safely tested for inhalation, so health experts have serious concerns about how their use could damage health over time. Regular use can impact respiratory health, with young people who use vapes being twice as likely to suffer from a chronic cough as non-users are. Vaping can also reduce lung function due to disturbance of gas exchange and tissue inflammation. Popular disposable vapes often contain the maximum permitted nicotine strength of 20 milligrams per millilitre. As we heard from Siobhian Brown, that is the equivalent of about 45 cigarettes. Young people who use vapes are at much higher risk of nicotine addiction and are three times more likely to start smoking tobacco compared with those who do not vape. Smoking is the direct cause of 16 per cent of all deaths in Scotland.

Regular nicotine use can have detrimental health effects, as teenagers are more vulnerable to dependency than adults are. Chronic nicotine exposure can impact brain development, contribute to cognitive and attention deficit conditions and worsen users’ mental health. Although the NHS recommends that adult smokers switch to vaping in order to quit, health experts are concerned that vapes are a gateway to young people starting to smoke.

ASH has highlighted that 55.8 per cent of children are aware of single-use vape promotion on social media, primarily on TikTok and Instagram. That encourages young people to try vaping, rather than it being a means for older smokers to quit smoking. Across the UK, disposable vape sales grew by an astonishing 883 per cent between May 2021 and May 2022. ASH puts that increase down to those harmful promotions.

Although it is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, social media carries posts of teenagers showing the newest vapes and discussing flavours. More than 500 flavours are available, including pink lemonade, blueberry and watermelon. Stores commonly promote so-called “must try” flavours, and online forums offer recommendations, with no age restrictions in place to access content. When menthol cigarettes were banned across Europe in 2020, 65.7 per cent of young adult menthol smokers said that they would quit smoking. That highlights that there is a strong link between attractive flavours and teenage smoking. Therefore, banning flavoured vapes could significantly reduce teen usage. Colourful packaging entices children and young people to purchase the product, with 82 per cent of Scots believing that such marketing is aimed at young people.

Research suggests that banning cigarette displays in shops has reduced the likelihood of young people purchasing cigarettes by 15 per cent. Given the appeal created by vape packaging, it is essential that we extend the legislation to cover vaping products.

The most popular single-use vapes cost about £5 and can often be found on special offer. Smoking cigarettes costs more than two and a half times as much. That comparison increases vape affordability for children and young people.

I welcome Waitrose’s recent decision to ban the sale of single-use vaping products. Despite ensuring that all staff strictly follow the challenge 25 policy when selling all age-restricted products, Waitrose recognises the risk that such products pose to young people, especially those who have not previously smoked. I urge other supermarkets to recognise the impact that the sale of such products is having on teen vapers.

It is important to highlight the concerns that have been voiced today in relation to the unnecessary uptake of vaping by young people. Despite the concerns about youth vaping, it is essential that NHS Scotland continues to encourage smokers who are planning to quit to switch to vapes. Although the long-term effects of vaping are unknown, stopping smoking will bring immediate health benefits, and vapes have been proven to be an effective method of reducing tobacco dependency for smokers.

Although vapes might be safer for adults than cigarettes, children and young people should be discouraged from using them. Following the success of legislation that was implemented to reduce smoking in Scotland, I urge the Scottish Government to extend the legislation to discourage children and young people from vaping. It is essential that we prohibit vape displays in shops and ban the myriad flavours on offer, given the number of youths who are taking up vaping, the unknown health risks that vaping poses and the irresponsible marketing of the products in shops and online.

Once again, I thank Siobhian Brown for bringing the debate to the chamber.


Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

I congratulate Siobhian Brown on securing time for this really important debate, and I thank all those who have been campaigning on the issue, particularly Less Waste Laura, ASH Scotland and Asthma + Lung UK.

The explosion in the use and popularity of single-use vapes, especially among young people, is multifaceted and difficult to tackle. I was pleased that, in response to my question, the Scottish Government committed to exploring a ban on single-use vapes. I share the concerns that Siobhian Brown and others have raised around such age-restricted products being marketed and sold to children. As the Asthma + Lung UK lung health champion for young people, I believe that we need to involve young people in such conversations, and I hope that, in the coming months, I will be able to work with the Scottish Youth Parliament and others to get their views.

Dundee City Council recently reported that 62 per cent of sites visited sold vapes to a test purchaser who was under 18. That is a real issue for councils, but I should stress that it is not restricted to Dundee. Those who repeatedly flout the rules could be banned from selling vapes and tobacco for up to 24 months, and I know that some of my councillors have raised the issue of how to deal with the large number of retailers selling vapes and the compliance issues that that causes.

In addition, if any of us wanted to, right now, we could order—via Just Eat, Uber Eats or other, similar platforms—vapes directly to this building. The people who deliver the product are supposed to check age on delivery, but how many are doing so? Although test purchasing from stores is a well-trodden path, it is an even more difficult area for councils to gauge.

The flavours of vapes that are available is an issue of concern to many parents, who believe that they are being targeted at children. We are hearing anecdotally that large numbers of children and young people are taking up vaping who probably would not have smoked. That is partly due to the appeal of the flavours, the disposable nature of vapes and the ease of getting them. We must ensure that their advertising to children is restricted.

Some of the ways in which children may be exposed to vapes, as with some issues relating to alcohol, are a reserved matter, but I hope that the UK Government will take action on the issue and ensure that children do not have age-restricted products advertised to them. I believe that the ban on such advertising should extend to stores, and I am pleased that so many members across the chamber believe that, too.

Just before Christmas, I wrote to some major retailers to ask them to treat vaping products in the same way as cigarettes are treated. I was disappointed by the responses that I received; indeed, sometimes, I did not receive a response at all. Many of those retailers were very proud when they removed sweets and other less healthy products from till lines, which they did mainly to improve the health of the population. I do not understand why that does not extend to the prominent placement of other health-harming products in stores, some of which are not only in prominent places but could be reached and picked up by children. I hope that, in the coming weeks, we will see a change of heart by the big supermarkets and other major chain retailers, and that they will put such products behind cover.

The strength of some vapes, as we have heard, is astounding, with some single-use vapes containing as much nicotine as 40 cigarettes. People who vape are being exposed to far higher levels of nicotine than they may realise.

The environmental issues are important, too. As I am sure that many in the chamber are aware, the number of vapes that litter our streets and parks is growing. Siobhian Brown highlighted that some children are picking them up to see what they have left in them, which is undoubtedly a public health concern. We have heard about how difficult they are to dispose of, let alone recycle. The lithium batteries in them present a risk of explosion if disposed of incorrectly. As Clare Adamson said, retailers who sell such products should be taking them back. We need to make people more aware of the appropriate ways to dispose of them and make sure that they are banned in the long term.

I again congratulate Siobhian Brown on securing time to debate the issue, and I hope that members across the chamber can work together to tackle it.


Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I thank Siobhian Brown for bringing the debate to the chamber and for all the work that she has been doing on the issue for quite some time.

There have been some great speeches that have covered all the main points—sales and advertising, flavours, recent reports and statistics, the environmental impacts and the health impacts—so I will keep my contribution quite short. However, I wanted to speak in the debate because—I admit it—I am a vaper. Quite a lot of people know that already; I have vaped for several years. My mum is always on at me to stop, and I hope that, one day, I will, but not right now.

After smoking cigarettes for 30-plus years, I am massively relieved that I now vape instead of smoking. Giving up the fags is probably the best thing that I have ever done for myself. I used to lie awake at night worrying. I did not want to die and not see my children grow up and not meet my grandkids. Cigarettes kill, as I think we all know. My dad died of lung cancer in 2020. His dad—my granda—was also a smoker and he died of lung cancer relatively young. My mum was a smoker, but she stopped decades ago. She has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is likely to have been caused by the fags.

For many people, vaping is a really valuable route to stopping smoking. I am not sure that I could ever have stopped otherwise, and I am certainly not alone in that. However, although quitting smoking is one of the best things that I have ever done, and vaping helped me to get there, as a parent, I am seriously worried about the sharp rise in the number of young people who regularly use vapes.

The main point that I want to labour tonight is that although vaping is a valuable tool in stopping smoking, marketing recreational single-use vapes to young people who have never smoked is an entirely different issue. We must not conflate the two. Evidence shows that vapes are less harmful than tobacco, but we do not yet know what long-term health harms are caused by breathing vape liquids into your lungs. Frankly, it is high time that we got rid of the rainbow displays at vape bars, where every flavour under the sun is available. I fully support the suggestions that have been made by other members.

Is vaping less dangerous than smoking? The evidence tells us that it is. How safe or harmful is vaping? In truth, we really do not know, but it is common sense that breathing such substances into your lungs is not a good thing. That is why I hope that I will stop vaping at some point. Less bad than smoking does not equal good, which is why I believe that urgent action is needed to protect our young people and avoid a new generation of nicotine addicts.

I will finish with a question: who benefits from creating a new generation of nicotine addicts? I think that we all know what the answer is.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call the next speaker, I advise members that, due to the high number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Siobhian Brown to move such a motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Siobhian Brown]

Motion agreed to.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Siobhian Brown for bringing the debate to the chamber. Given the length of the debate and the number of people who want to speak in it, it is clear that we are debating an issue of real concern, and it is one that I have spoken about before.

It does not seem that long ago that, in meetings in my office, vaping companies were lobbying me to support them. It was a great surprise to them that I was very strongly against universal access. They thought that I would support them because vapes were being marketed as a tool to quit smoking, which is the one area in which I would support their use. I was very interested to hear Stephanie Callaghan talk about her experiences. I would support the use of vaping as a medical intervention that has been recommended by medical professionals.

I well remember asking one particular vaping company, “Who owns the company?” Of course, I knew that the owner was a tobacco company, so the question that I put was, “Are you really suggesting that tobacco companies are producing these products to help their customers to stop using their products and, therefore, put themselves out of business?” By that logic, once they had helped every smoker to quit, there would be no need for any of their products. If vapes are solely for smoking cessation, why are there so many flavours and additives to draw in potential users? I informed the company that I was not that gullible.

Everything that I was concerned about back then has manifested itself and then some. I have a daughter who is in secondary school, and I am shocked at the level of vaping activity among pupils. There seems to be anecdotal evidence that as much as half the student population has tried or is regularly using vaping products. Moreover, there is a whole microindustry around the buying and selling of such products by students in schools—evidence of that is the quantity of products that is confiscated daily by the campus policeman. More significantly, the number of students who smoke tobacco or marijuana or even worse remains high and is climbing.

Vaping is a door to addiction and a step towards using those more harmful products, rather than its marketed use for smoking cessation. Siobhian Brown’s motion makes the very important point that vaping is not without harm, and that harm is yet to be properly quantified. My fear is that we are simply storing up a health crisis for the next generation. Inhaling foreign particles into our lungs cannot be anything but harmful on some level. That is blindingly obvious.

We need to regulate the use of vapes much more effectively and keep them out of the hands of schoolchildren. The marketing budgets of tobacco firms are being used to entice entirely new users into using vapes and then on to even more harmful products. For those who use them, their use is a habit as well as a social statement. Peer pressure is a key driver and, after all, it is not really smoking, is it? In addition, there are all those wonderful flavours, including bubble-gum flavour, for goodness sake—yes, that is really aimed at adults who want to quit. It is too easy for pupils to be drawn in and then make the step to the next level of substance abuse.

I agree that there is a place for vapes in the drive to help with smoking cessation. However, they should need to be prescribed by a health professional; at the very least, we should make the penalties for selling to underage pupils so high that it becomes not worth the risk. We need to take the issue extremely seriously before we have another health crisis on our hands.

I again thank Siobhian Brown for giving us the opportunity to raise the issue in the strongest possible way and to urge our Governments to take the appropriate urgent action to get such products out of the hands of our children.


Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank Siobhian Brown for an excellent speech. It is the speech that I wanted to hear, because I did not disagree with a single word of it or any of the excellent speeches thereafter.

Concern for children is my concern too. Like Brian Whittle, I have been worried about the risk of vaping among children and young teenagers for some time, not because I know a great deal about it but because anecdotal evidence has suggested to me that it is much wider spread than we thought, and I have lodged a few questions to demonstrate my interest. I am therefore delighted to be joining the debate this evening.

It has taken decades of public health campaigns, which I know that Kenneth Gibson has had a key part in over the years, to reduce the number of young people in Scotland smoking. Just as improved behaviours were becoming established, vapes have come along and seem to be capturing a new generation of users. The World Health Organization suggests that children and adolescents who start vaping are three times more likely to take up smoking. There is limited data. I think that Siobhian Brown has already mentioned ASH Scotland’s research showing that 17 per cent of 13-years-olds and 35 per cent of 15-year-olds have used a vape at some point, but I agree with Paul Sweeney, Brian Whittle and others that it is much wider than that.

Current evidence suggests that vaping is less harmful to a person’s health than smoking, but recent studies indicate these are still health-harming products that damage the heart and lungs as well as causing gum disease, tooth decay and headaches.

Stephanie Callaghan makes the point very well—and it is my point too—that vaping is an important route to stop smoking, but the focus of this debate is first of all the safety of children. Increasing the likelihood of users going on to become smokers is why we are all very concerned. As we have heard, some of these products contain nicotine, which is addictive. Research has shown that nicotine can have a detrimental impact on brain development and increase a young person’s risk of future substance abuse.

A survey of 1,000 adults that was commissioned by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland and conducted by Opinion Matters revealed that more than three quarters of people in Scotland are concerned about the use of vapes in schools, so it is a real issue. Earlier this month, the Daily Record launched a new campaign to ban disposable devices amid fears that they have turned our streets into a plastic dumping ground, which was also mentioned by other members. There seems to be a consensus here that we need to look at banning them for environmental reasons too.

I was involved in the ban on smoking in public places during the early sessions of Parliament, and we have seen the impact that that has had. What was the point of that world-leading legislation if coming behind it is a product that is aimed at young people with one thing in mind, which is to create a market of people who will then go on to smoke after they have given up vapes? I am surmising that, but I think that we all think that it is the case. That is why we must do all that we can, notwithstanding the point that Paul Sweeney also makes well, which is that we must think about what approach we take with young people. I guess that the minister will address this. If we say that it is banned, young people might want to rebel against that, so we need to think carefully how we do this. We need to explain to young people, “I know that all your friends are doing it and it seems to be a thing to do at school, but really it is in your long-term health interests not to do so.”


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague Siobhian Brown on securing the debate. I know that she is doing much work on youth vaping. She laid out perfectly the issues around youth vaping, as Pauline McNeill described. I thank Asthma + Lung UK Scotland and ASH Scotland for their briefings ahead of the debate and for their work to improve lung health or respiratory health in Scotland.

This debate is about youth vaping. I am the co-convener of the lung health cross-party group and a registered nurse, so I am interested in the impact of vaping on lung health, especially given the very serious health concerns that have been expressed by medical experts and echoed around the chamber this evening.

I have amended and scored out loads of my speech because colleagues have covered the information already, but it is worth repeating that nicotine is the primary addictive component of tobacco cigarettes. Vapes do not burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, which are two of the most damaging elements to health in tobacco smoke, but we know that e-cigarette use can have negative effects on respiratory health. One of my concerns is the nicotine in e-cigarettes and vapes. Research has shown that young people using e-cigarettes are twice as likely to suffer from a chronic cough than non-users.

I know that there has not been enough research into it, but is it not logical that inhaling foreign bodies into your lungs has to be harmful?

Emma Harper

There is just a one-word answer to that and that is yes. We should absolutely be doing research into and paying attention to substances that people are taking into lungs, which may be meant for food colouring, as came up earlier.

Kenneth Gibson spoke about the disturbance of gas exchange in the lungs and lung inflammation, but it is worth repeating that. Lung damage due to vaping is referred to as e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury—EVALI. A public health investigation in Illinois and Wisconsin in the US found that the median age of patients suffering from EVALI was 21, but we have heard from colleagues across the chamber that younger people are vaping now.

Despite what the industry may say, nicotine can have detrimental health effects. We know that adolescents are more vulnerable to nicotine dependency than adults. Chronic nicotine exposure can impact brain development. That has been mentioned already but is worth repeating. The lung health cross-party group, which Alexander Stewart and I co-convene, had Dr Jonathan Coutts, who is a paediatric respiratory physician, present us with the evidence of his research about nicotine on child brain development. I refer members to the recording of the meeting. It is in the lung health CPG September minutes on the Parliament website. The impact on brain development that was presented shows that it can contribute to cognitive and attention deficit conditions and worsen mood disorders. That is pretty shocking. We also heard about the effects on mental health.

In addition to the health impact of vaping, particularly on young people, I am concerned about the way in which the vaping and tobacco industry is targeting young people, as others have described.

I will skip to the end of my speech and ask the Government what we can do to tighten the rules on advertising and promoting vaping products. It is a concern that these big bright colours are front and centre in our retail outlets and supermarkets.

Again, I thank Siobhian Brown for bringing the debate to the chamber and I share the concerns that have been raised by everybody about the health impacts of vaping on our young people in Scotland.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you to Siobhian Brown for lodging her motion for debate, providing a timely opportunity to discuss the phenomenal growth in vaping that has left behind both our understanding and regulation of e-cigarettes.

The great vape debate is often whether e-cigarettes are saving smokers or creating new addicts. I suspect that the answer is probably both. Lung disease remains the third largest killer in Scotland, with smoking still the biggest cause. However, smoking rates in Scotland have seen a welcome decrease from 28 per cent of adults in 2003 to 11 per cent in 2021, largely thanks to policy interventions such as the ban on smoking in public places that Pauline McNeill mentioned.

Given that vaping appears less harmful than smoking, albeit that that is not a high bar, e-cigarettes have been seen as a useful tool for those who wish to quit smoking tobacco, but it is also clear that vaping is far from risk free. As a number of members have mentioned, we do not fully understand the long-term health effects, but recent studies have suggested that e-cigarettes can impact heart and lung health, and most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is of course addictive. The sharp increase in the proportion of e-cigarette users who have never smoked before should concern us all.

I know that there is still limited data on the proportion of young people who are vaping. ASH Scotland found that the number of 11 to 17-year-olds who have tried vaping has risen to 15.8 per cent from 11.2 per cent in 2021. These are trends that cannot be allowed to continue largely unchecked. Even though a person has to be over 18 to purchase e-cigarettes legally, it is clear that the brightly coloured and fruit-flavoured vapes are marketed in a way to attract—in fact, ruthlessly target—young people, often on social media platforms. They are also considerably cheaper than cigarettes. According to ASH Scotland, the monthly cost of e-liquids is around £56 compared to the £250 per month that the average cigarette smoker would spend. They are also far more readily available.

It is therefore understandable that there are widespread calls for action. Asthma + Lung UK Scotland wants the Government to fully enact the remaining regulations from the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 to restrict the marketing and promotion of vaping products, particularly to children and young people. I hope that that is what the Government’s recent consultation on this ultimately delivers.

Along with the health concerns surrounding e-cigarettes, the toxic and single-use plastic waste that is caused by disposable vapes is also becoming a deep concern and one that I want to focus the rest of my comments on. I had the privilege of meeting the environmental campaigner Laura Young, who has led the way in seeking action to tackle the environmental impact of disposable vapes, collecting many hundreds off our streets herself. It is a blight that has crept up on us but one that is growing at a pace. According to research by Material Focus, at least 1.3 million disposables vapes are thrown away every week in the UK. That conservative estimate is two every second. It is the equivalent of 22 football pitches of plastic litter, but less than a third is recycled.

The lucrative vaping market as a whole in the UK is worth more than £1 billion a year and more than half of children today say that disposables are their preferred product. As well as targeting those young people, the industry is failing to take any responsibility for collecting and recycling its product. Ultimately, it is not realistic to think that the majority of users of disposable vapes will collect them up and take them to their nearest recycling centre. Scotland’s ban on single-use plastics became fully effective in August 2022, but there is a clearly a loophole in the failure to include disposable vapes, which are largely made of plastic.

I welcome the fact that the Government has commissioned a review into the environmental impact and management of disposable vapes, which could lead to a ban on the product. If we are being honest, I do not think that we need a review to tell us that there are already alternatives out there and that disposable vapes are an unnecessary evil that could and should be banned. The Scottish Government’s upcoming circular economy bill is a prime opportunity to deliver a ban. I strongly urge the Government to take that opportunity and get on with ending the sale of disposable vapes in our shops.


The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

I thank Siobhian Brown for lodging the motion and offer my thanks to all the members across the chamber who have taken part in discussing what we can all agree is a very important issue. I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government.

The Scottish Government has a clear policy on vaping products: they are one of a range of possible smoking cessation tools, but they are not a lifestyle accessory for young people or indeed adult non-smokers. I commend Stephanie Callaghan for her honest contribution and I am absolutely delighted that she has stopped smoking. It is one of the best things that you can do for your health, but I have to be clear that while vaping is one of the tools available to aid smoking cessation, we do not yet fully understand its long-term effects on our health. We need to be cautious. I very much appreciate the line that less bad than smoking does not equal good, and I will recycle it plenty.

The evidence base is growing and we are continually monitoring it. The World Health Organization has said that vaping devices are “undoubtedly harmful” to health and should be “strictly regulated”. Professor Ann McNeill, from King’s College London, led the evidence review on vaping for the UK Government and specialises in tobacco addiction. She said that vaping is

“very unlikely to be risk-free. We strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”

I echo her view—just do not take it up.

We already have strict legislation on the sale of tobacco and vaping products in Scotland. All retailers must be registered, and sales are restricted to those aged 18 and over. However, the very fact that we are discussing this issue tonight highlights that there is work to be done to protect young people and ensure that they are not able to access these products, whether that is through purchasing themselves or being supplied them by others. Both are illegal. It is just not acceptable in modern-day Scotland, where we want to see a generation of young people grow up free from tobacco and nicotine addiction.

Surely what we should be looking to do here is make it as difficult as possible for our youth to get hold of these products and to punish those who supply to underage people as harshly as we possibly can.

Maree Todd

We are working very closely with Trading Standards Scotland to understand what key improvements could be made in Scotland to stamp out illegal sales. I also plan to raise with the minister for public health in the UK Government what we can do collectively, along with the other devolved Governments, to stop this growing trend. That includes looking to see where we can be much stronger around issues such as flavouring, which we know is a significant draw for younger people. Kenneth Gibson is right to highlight the evidence of a link between menthol flavour and smoking. I am horrified when I see and hear about the range of flavourings available and how these devices are being marketed to directly appeal to our children and young people.

Members may be aware that the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity has commissioned an urgent review of the environmental impacts of disposable vapes. As a number of members said, as well as being a form of single-use plastic, they contain batteries and are particularly toxic to our environment. I look forward to the results of that review. A ban is one possible outcome, which I would welcome from both an environmental and a public health point of view.

Siobhian Brown and others raised a very important point about nicotine addiction. I hear the concerns about the impact of nicotine on brain health, the concerns about lung health and the link to taking up smoking, as highlighted by the World Health Organization, but all of us here need to be concerned about the way that this formulation, like smoking—I am a pharmacist, so please indulge me—is highly addictive. The drug nicotine gets very speedily and in good concentration into the bloodstream, across the blood-brain barrier to the site of action. It gives you a hit. These are uniquely addictive products and we all know that smoking tobacco is a consequence and a cause of health inequalities. Children becoming addicted to these products at a very young age means a lifetime of sales for the companies marketing them and a lifetime impact on their spending power on other issues. It is just frightening.

The long-term goal is to create a Scotland where everyone can flourish, with improved health and reduced health inequalities. Ensuring that young people are not growing up addicted to vapes and addicted to nicotine, with all the health and economic harms that that brings, is acutely important in achieving that goal.

This autumn we will publish a refreshed tobacco action plan, which will renew our commitment to achieving the 2034 target of lowering smoking rates in our communities to below 5 per cent. We want children born since 2013 to be free from tobacco, so that, when they turn 21, they will be tobacco free and will come of age in a Scotland that will remain tobacco free for generations to come. Note that we have a tobacco free target in Scotland, not a smoke free target.

Gillian Mackay

I thank the minister for taking an intervention. She recognised the impact that the tobacco industry has. Will she join the calls that I have made to retailers to consider putting these products behind cover where they cannot be seen by children and young people, in order to reduce that impact?

Maree Todd

Yes, absolutely. We are considering all these things. We have started to take action. Last year we consulted on restrictions on the advertising and promotion of vaping products. Those are aimed at reducing the visibility of vapes to children, young people and adult non-smokers. Any action that we take will seek to build on the regulations that are already in place to restrict the marketing, promotion and sale of vaping products to under-18s. My aim is to bring forward new regulations in 2023.

We are also working with stakeholders, including ASH Scotland, Young Scot and the Children’s Parliament, to help young people understand that vaping is not risk free, it is not a lifestyle accessory and it does have consequences. It is important that we hear their voices and understand, as a number of members said, how best to support them to make more informed choices.

Brian Whittle

I thank the minister very much for indulging me again. Should we not be organising a marketing counter strategy that takes a pride in Scotland approach, in that we are trying to be a completely smoke-free country?

Maree Todd

We need to consider all aspects of how to get to the crux of this problem, but we need to remember that it is a highly addictive product that is being marketed to appeal to young children during the course of their development. We need to take very stringent measures to tackle that particular risk.

It is not just a public health issue, but clearly we need to keep health at the forefront of everything we do. We need to work across Government to maximise opportunities for cross-cutting impact. That might be through action on illegal products, which obviously benefits the economy, addressing environmental concerns or improving education. By continuing to work together, learning from our recent experiences and building on our successes, I am confident that we can make lasting changes that will positively benefit the health and wellbeing of everyone in Scotland.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 18:36.