Use of electronic cigarettes, promoted as a useful aid for quitting smoking, has skyrocketed in recent years.
However, the high rate of uptake among children and teenagers is causing grave concern due to the health impacts of inhaling chemicals which are often toxic and for the potential for addiction to nicotine.
The Scottish Greens say they will push for a ban on vapes and juices based on confectionery, desserts and berries, which they say are being made to appeal to youngsters, in the new year. But in the meantime they want supermarkets and shops to take voluntary action to hide such paraphernalia from view in the same way as traditional tobacco products.
The move comes following warnings from international health experts over the dangers of vaping, particularly for young people.
According to the World Health Organisation, “evidence reveals that these products are harmful to health and are not safe”. The agency cites studies which suggest an increased risk of heart disease and lung disorders, and cautions that pregnancies could be impacted by exposure.
It also highlights the “highly addictive” nature of nicotine. Surveys suggest ‘never-smoker’ minors who use the devices are twice as likely to smoke tobacco in later life.
Vaping can also pose a threat to non-smokers and bystanders, while there is an additional danger of accidental consumption by young children.
Anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland has also highlighted the risk of cheap, brightly coloured and highly flavoured vapes, dubbing the marketing of such products towards younger people as a “disaster in the making”. Data shows children as young as seven have used vapes, with at least 35 per cent of 15-year-olds identified as being users.
Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay, the party’s health spokesperson, raised concerns that “deliberately sweet-toothed tactics” being used to target under-age people were spiralling. She said urgent action was needed.
As a first step, she is asking retailers to take the lead by concealing such products from view. “It cannot be right that these brands are promoting these products with berry, watermelon, mint and other flavours,” she said. “It is a re-run of when alcopops first appeared on the scene and targeted teeny tipplers.”
Ms Mackay added: “This is beyond the days of smoking behind the bike sheds. It is a ticking time-bomb.”
Smokers’ rights campaigners say banning sweet vapes would be a “massive own goal” for public health because it would deter many smokers from switching to less harmful products.
Simon Clark, director of the group Forest, said restricting the choice of vapes to adults would be “illiberal” and “counter-productive”. “The sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is already prohibited,” he said. “Further point-of-sale policies, like hiding or banning flavoured vapes, will not only infantilise adults of all ages, it will deny lawful consumers access to the products and information that may help them quit smoking."
E-cigarettes heat a liquid, which often contains nicotine, but typically includes chemical additives, to create aerosols that are inhaled by the user.
Research suggests nicotine can harm children and adolescents, potentially affecting brain development and causing mental disorders.