Are these laws like smoking laws? Are there differences in the law between different vaping products, like nicotine free e-liquid, that sets itself apart from smoking?
This confusion leads to a massive marketplace grey area in terms of legality that is adversely unhelpful for the public looking to enjoy these products, not to mention potentially dangerous to sellers who do not have a comprehensive understanding about what side of the law they may be falling on.
So let’s suss out what the laws are in the UK surrounding vaping so that consumers can be better informed, and also so retailers (both in physical stores and online) can ensure they are staying well within the confines of legality.
What is the Legal Age for Vaping in the UK
If we start at the very basic, then, the legal age for vaping in the UK is 18, in terms of purchasing e-cigarettes or e-liquids, both in physical stores and online. However, vaping at home or in public places would not be considered a criminal activity for those under the age of 18. Moreover, someone over the age of 18 is not allowed to buy these products for a minor, and someone over the age of 18 may not be permitted to vape on premises where the owner has requested against this. And this law in itself is quite new, only coming into effect in October 2015.
So the act of vaping if you are a minor is accepted, but the purchase of the products to do so is not. What could potentially cause further confusion is that in 2016, an updated version of the original October 2015 law was made public. Although the changes did not affect the legal vaping age, they did tighten the regulations around producing these goods:
- A requirement to have all e-cigarettes and e-liquids to be registered with the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency before selling
- The size of refillable tanks for e-cigarettes was also limited to no more than 2ml
- All e-liquids being sold cannot be sold in quantities larger than 10ml
- All e-liquids were required to have a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml unless products with a higher rating were registered as medicine and met the set criteria
- All packaging of e-liquids had to be tamper evident and child resistant
- Stimulants like taurine, caffeine, or colourings should not be added to the e-liquids
- There were also new rules and guidelines set on the labelling
So at one point, consumers and retailers may not know the updated version of this legislation, causing confusion. And, at another point, one aspect of the law and the enforcement of said law are in some respects at odds with each other. Another spanner that could very easily be thrown into this mix is to consider if the laws about vaping are similar or different to smoking, or to products that contain nicotine. Thus a matrix of factors contribute to the vagueness of vaping laws in general, which directly relates to any confusion surrounding the legal age for vaping.
Are Vaping Laws Similar to Smoking Laws?
Well, as you could probably guess, the answer is yes and no. Yes because in terms of age, you must be 18 in the UK to buy cigarettes legally, and anyone under 16 could have their cigarettes confiscated by police. Moreover, a minor would not be permitted to buy any vaping product, regardless of whether the product contains the same harmful substances as smoking, such as nicotine-free e-liquids.
Although it does seem the case that smoking laws outrightly echo vaping laws in terms of usage, whether the applications of these laws are more or less stringent for smoking may very well come down to interpretation. However, if the auxiliary laws surrounding smoking and vaping are considered, such as where these activities are permitted, the law becomes much more rigid.
Smoking in any enclosed space in the UK is by and large prohibited, and this has been the case since 2007. However, there is at present no legislation that prohibits vaping anywhere, indoors or outdoors. Although, many establishments have their own sanctions that permit or prohibit vaping which must be adhered to, and this includes public spaces. These differences in smoking laws and vaping laws hints at an issue of cultural acceptability that favors vaping over smoking, which I will get to, I promise. In the meantime, where exactly can you vape in public?
Where Can You Vape in Public and Other Vaping Laws
If you were to wander into a public space in the UK, indoor or outdoor, such as a library, and you did not know what the regulations regarding whether you were allowed to vape or not, you could probably easily assume that they were the same as those for smoking cigarettes, even if the laws actually vary. Most indoor public places like train stations/platforms, hospitals, restaurants, large stadiums, office buildings, museums, schools, etc. do not allow for vaping. And the same could be said for any means of public transportation, such as busses, trains, planes, ferries, etc.
Are other vaping laws comparable to smoking cigarettes? If we gloss over the many established and emerging regulations surrounding the production of vapes and e-cigarettes themselves compared to the production of cigarettes, and focus on usage laws only, by and large there are many crossovers, including vaping in cars, for example, which could result in a fine of £2,500 and 9 penalty points.
Vaping vs Smoking: Cultural Acceptability
So as is quite clear, vaping usage laws exist, but what this means exactly in terms of action and enforcement can vary from place to place. And although this is proving hard to navigate, the reasons why vaping underage falls into this unknown zone is actually quite straightforward, and one of the pivotal reasons comes down to cultural acceptability. Vaping in the UK is generally regarded as more healthy than smoking. E-liquid does not necessarily have to contain nicotine, making it potentially less addictive than smoking, and vaping in itself is better on the body. Not only does this create a more positive popular perception of vaping, but it has also created this fluid, shifting state of legality. If vaping is less dangerous than smoking, there is a reason to not ban it outright, as it could be used as a tool to help people quit smoking cigarettes, as Public Health England has promoted the recognition of.
As vaping in the UK is viewed as something that can improve health, or potentially improve health, large-scale bans or regulations will continue to create an air of confusion about it’s usage legality. This in effect fuels its popularity amongst many people, but also amongst minors, as repercussions are less stringent. There is no easy solution to this paradox - one appealing aspect of vaping that makes it popular in the first place is creating potentially illegal activity. And, until this tension can be resolved, chances are vaping laws will continue to change and prove at least slightly bewildering.