Vaping and e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular over the past decade, especially among younger generations. However, the availability and accessibility of vaping products have been a source of much debate and controversy. While vape advocates argue that flavored nicotine vapes help smokers quit traditional cigarettes, critics cite the risks of addiction and use among youth. Regulations around vape sales and marketing continue to evolve across different states and countries.
The rise in popularity of vaping since the early 2010s has led to dramatic growth in the vaping industry. In the United States alone, vape sales grew from around $1.7 billion in 2012 to $5.4 billion in 2019. There are now thousands of vape shops across the country specializing in devices like vape pens, e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and mods. Vape manufacturers have produced a diverse range of disposable and refillable vaping systems, like THC vapes UK, along with thousands of different e-juice flavors. Online vape retailers also allow consumers to easily purchase vapes and have them shipped.
However, vaping and concerns around youth vaping rates have also led to new regulations on sales and marketing. In December 2019, the US federal government raised the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping products from 18 to 21 years old. Some states have additional restrictions like levying excise taxes on e-cigarettes or banning flavored vape products which critics argue appeal to teenagers. A 2020 UK law also banned online sales of vaping devices. While vapes remain legal and widely available in specialty shops and convenience stores, new laws have made accessing them slightly more difficult.
Under the FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco products, the agency has also taken steps to limit youth access. Premarket review requirements for newer vaping products went into effect in 2020, forcing manufacturers to submit applications demonstrating their public health benefit for adults switching from traditional cigarettes. A federal ban on flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes was instituted in early 2020 but exempted menthol and tobacco flavors. However, the policy prompted some companies to transition to selling disposable, self-contained flavored vapes not subject to the flavor ban.
Some public health advocates have called for additional measures like caps on nicotine content in vapes, more advertising restrictions and expanding flavor bans. Others caution that excessive restrictions could drive vapers toward the black market and illicit products. The debate around access seeks to balance public health concerns with ensuring adult smokers retain access to vaping as a potentially less harmful alternative to cigarettes.
Vaping laws and availability also vary widely across the globe. According to global tobacco control group Knowledge-Action-Change, as of December 2021, 44 countries have banned the sale of e-cigarettes or nicotine vaping products entirely, including Brazil, Thailand and Singapore. Others like Canada and the UK have few restrictions beyond age verification requirements. Australia and Japan essentially ban nicotine vapes but permit vaping without nicotine. The European Union’s new Tobacco Product Directive has standard EU-wide regulations on vape product ingredients, packaging and nicotine levels.
While obtaining vaping products in countries like the US and UK remains relatively easy, access is being curtailed through some regulations intended to limit youth adoption and address the risks of nicotine addiction. However, the speed of regulatory change has not kept pace with the meteoric growth of the vaping industry. Vape manufacturers continue innovating with new discrete product designs while adding thousands of flavors and nicotine level variations to retain their broad consumer appeal. For the foreseeable future, vapes will likely remain controversial but widely available. Carefully crafted regulations seek to balance curbing underage use with maintaining vapes as an option for of-age smokers looking for an alternative.