Health & Studies

Disposable Lives

A new study from the University of East Anglia claims to show how disposable vapes have become a prominent part of young people’s lives

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A new study from Caitlin Notley, Anna Varley, Ian Pope, Lynne Dawkins, and Emma Ward at the University of East Anglia claims to show how disposable vapes have become a prominent part of young people’s lives. The researchers say it reveals that young people see smoking and vaping as interchangeable but are seriously misguided about the potential harms of vaping.

The UEA says a key finding from the research suggests that banning disposable vape products or increasing their prices could lead young people to revert to smoking tobacco. This is as worrying as it was predictable.

“Banning disposable vape products or increasing their prices could lead young people to revert to smoking tobacco”

The University added that many young people questioned as part of the study said that when disposable vapes are banned they will be stockpiling them in advance or buying illegal vapes online or through the black market.

Lead researcher Caitlin Notley, a Professor of Addiction Sciences at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Youth use of disposable vapes has surged in recent years in the UK.

“Despite this increase, little was previously known about the motivations behind this trend and the experiences of young people who use these products.

“This study aimed to explore these aspects, providing valuable insights into the factors influencing youth vaping behaviour.”

The researchers recruited 29 young people aged between 16 and 20 to the study programme. They used a range of methods to investigate the motivations, experiences and perceptions of using disposable vapes.

Each approach was chosen to best suit the needs of the participants - from individual interviews with researchers, to recorded conversations in friendship pairs using prompt cards without a researcher present, to small group interviews designed to support those with special educational needs.

The key findings:

  • Individual Motivations: Participants highlighted key characteristics of disposable vapes that appealed to them, such as affordability, ease of access, and the attractive designs, colours, names, and flavours.
  • Behaviour Patterns: Many young people engaged in both vaping and tobacco smoking, viewing these behaviours as interchangeable based on the context. There was a common misconception about the relative harms of vaping compared to smoking.
  • Social and Emotional Factors: Experimentation with vapes was prevalent, and many young people used vapes to manage stress and anxiety. Vaping was also identified as a social activity, widely accepted among peer groups. Notably, participants were more informed about the potential harms of vaping than those associated with smoking.
  • Regulation: Strict regulatory measures, such as banning disposable vape products or increasing their prices, could lead young people to revert to smoking tobacco. Many of the young people believed that if disposable vapes were banned they would be able to continue using them by stockpiling or purchasing illegally.

Co-author Dr Ian Pope, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and an emergency physician, said: “Disposable vapes are particularly attractive and accessible to young people in the UK, contributing to the normalisation of vaping within this demographic.

“Despite recognising the potential health risks, young people continue to engage in both vaping and smoking, often interchangeably.

“The widespread availability of underage vape sales and availability of illicit vapes further exacerbates this issue.”

The researchers say young people’s use of disposable vapes could be reduced by tighter enforcement of age of sale and restricting packaging and marketing.

However, they also say the evidence suggests these sorts of interventions have the potential for significant unintended consequences, including increased use of illicit vapes and, most worryingly, increased tobacco use amongst young people.

Prof Notley said: “Therefore any interventions to combat use of disposables may need to be accompanied by policy interventions to reduce access to illicit vapes and tobacco and increase awareness of the relative harms of tobacco compared to vapes.”


Photo Credit:

  • Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash, cropped, resized and vape added

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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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