How Old Do You Have To Be to Vape in the UK?

About Vaping in the UK: What’s Legal and What’s Not!

What’s the Difference between Cigarettes and Electronic Cigarettes (Vaping Devices)?

Many people are confused about e-cigarettes, assuming they are just a high-tech version of a traditional cigarette, but this is not correct. It is true that electronic cigarettes were developed to replace cigarettes, and they do serve the same purpose which is to deliver inhaled nicotine; however, they do this in entirely different ways.

How e-Cigarettes Differ from Cigarettes

How Cigarettes Work: A cigarette burns tobacco leaves, and when the resulting smoke is inhaled it delivers nicotine to the user. At the same time, it also delivers more than 4,000 chemicals which amalgamate to form tar and other dangerous chemicals.

How e-Cigarettes Work: An e-cigarette does not contain tobacco and no substance is burned. Also known as a vaping product, e-cigarettes are typically filled with a liquid that contains nicotine. Within the device there is a small heating element that turns the liquid into vapour, which is then inhaled via a mouthpiece. There is no smoke because there was no combustion. The liquid within the e-cigarette is mostly vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol which are both used in food and FDA-approved medicines. The liquid also contains pharmaceutical-grade nicotine.

The Confusion Between the Two: The only thing that cigarettes and e-cigarettes actually have in common is that the user inhales nicotine. Many users of e-cigarettes today are choosing not to use the term e-cigarette and instead prefer to call them vaping products, personal vaporisers, or simply vapes. The confusion about the similarity between cigarettes and e-cigarettes initially arose because of the name ‘e-cigarette’, which was simply chosen for marketing purposes – as a means of letting smokers know that these devices are a viable alternative to cigarettes.

About Vaping

It wasn’t that long ago that most of us had never heard of vaping, but today it’s become popular worldwide, with more and more people swapping their regular cigarettes for e-cigarettes. The United Kingdom is widely regarded as the most vape-friendly country in the world, but there are laws that must be followed.

Research conducted by the Royal College of Physicians revealed that the effects of electronic cigarettes on the body were almost 20 times less dangerous than the damage caused by smoking. It was this revelation that resulted in a number of changes being made to vaping policies in the UK. There is no doubt that vaping is beneficial to many smokers who are trying to quit, and because of the mechanism of vapour production, it’s also safe for bystanders. Today, vaping in the UK is being promoted as a safe alternative to smoking.

It’s been more than a decade since e-cigarettes and vaping devices appeared on the scene in the UK, and since that time there have been several changes. Not only has the quality of the products improved, laws governing how these devices are manufactured and sold have also changed. It is your responsibility as an e-cigarette user to make sure you abide by all applicable restrictions, so here is everything you should know about vaping laws and regulations in the UK.

How Old Do You Have To Be to Vape in the UK?

Originally, people of any age in the UK were able to purchase e-cigarette’s; however, with vaping becoming widespread throughout the country, the government has now established legislation to limit the sale of electronic cigarettes and e-liquids to anyone considered to be a minor.

The law was changed in October 2015, banning both online retailers and physical stores from selling e-cigarettes and e-liquids to anyone under the age of 18 years.

At the same time, it also became illegal for an adult to purchase e-cigarettes for a minor (a person under the age of 18 years). Any retailer found to be selling these products to a minor can receive a fine of up to £2,500. Unfortunately, it is well-known that many minors have not been asked by retailers to show ID and have therefore been able to purchase vaping equipment in the UK. Due to continuously changing laws, some sellers say they’re still unsure of what’s legal and what’s not, and there is ongoing debate about whether it’s legal or illegal to sell nicotine-free e-liquid.

Vaping While Driving

Included in the ban is smoking in private vehicles carrying minors; however, vaping in private vehicles is currently permitted when carrying minors. And while it is legal to vape in a vehicle transporting minors, you could receive a fine of up to £2500 if you’re vaping and not in full control of your vehicle. Sounds contradictory we know, but vapour mist could obscure your vision, which means you’d be driving without due care and attention, potentially leading to a crash or even a fatality. Vaping mist can be a huge distraction while driving, so while there is currently no law prohibiting vaping while driving, by law you must be in complete control of your vehicle at all times. Perhaps the message here is that it’s probably best not to drive and vape!

I Already Own a Vape: Is It Illegal for Me to Use It?

While it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 years in the United Kingdom to purchase e-cigarettes, it’s not illegal for that person to vape at home or in public. Previously, it was legal for anyone over the age of 16 years to purchase cigarettes in a store; however, in recent years that law has been changed to ban any person under the age of 18 years from purchasing smoking paraphernalia. 16 and 17-year-olds are legally permitted to smoke if they already possess cigarettes, but they are not legally permitted to purchase cigarettes.

Changes in Smoking Laws

Over the past few years we have seen smoking laws change considerably: in 2017 we saw the enforcement of plain brown packaging, the elimination of 10-packs, and warning images covering cigarette packets.

Today, authorities in the United Kingdom acknowledge that vaping is a much less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, and that’s why the government is reluctant to ban the practice. So if you’re visiting the United Kingdom, or perhaps you are a local, it’s still your responsibility to make sure you understand the laws and regulations and abide by all applicable restrictions.

Photo by Richard R Schünemann on Unsplash

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated since.

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