Ministers are considering banning candy-flavoured vapes and slapping disposable vaping devices with a new levy in a bid to crackdown on their use among children, i can reveal.

The Department for Health and Social Care is looking at a range of options to prevent the rise of adolescents taking up the habit amid growing concerns that the number of under-18s vaping has nearly doubled in two years.

It is illegal to sell vapes to anyone below the age of 18, but national surveys have shown an increasing trend of 11-17 year olds using the devices, with health leaders blaming the rise on the marketing and flavours associated with them.

i understands that officials are exploring whether to ban candy-flavoured vapes, such as bubblegum, which they believe are particularly appealing to younger people.

Another option on the table is introducing a levy on disposable vapes, such as the increasingly popular Elf Bars, which come in a range of bold colours, while a crackdown on marketing that is aimed at adolescents is also under consideration.

Such a move would be met with significant opposition from the industry, but is attracting support among charities and campaigners who want to bring the price of disposable vapes into greater alignment with reusable ones, and less affordable for children.

The plans are being drawn up as part of the Government’s response to the Khan Review into smoking, which urged ministers to “do everything they possibly can to prevent children and young people from vaping, including by banning child friendly packaging and descriptions”.

A senior government source with knowledge of the plans told i: “We will be responding to the Khan Review some time in the Spring.

“It will look at vaping, with the benefits it has for getting people to stop smoking. Obviously, when it comes to kids vaping, we do have to nip it in the bud.”

The issue of children vaping was raised earlier this week by the Chief Medical Officer for England Prof Sir Chris Whitty, who branded the marketing of the products as “utterly unacceptable”.

Council leaders have called for vaping products to be subject to the same marketing and display rules as cigarettes, which are hidden from view and only allowed to be sold in plain packaging. It comes after the Local Government Association raised concerns of vapes being sold to children in various parts of the country.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH, called for a new tax on disposables to be included in next month’s Budget.

“Children who vape mainly use cheap disposables, which are attractive, brightly coloured and cheap, they’re widely available for under a fiver,” Ms Arnott said. “Increasing the tax on single use disposable vapes in the March Budget would be easy to do and by making them less affordable could reduce both child vaping and the vast quantities of single use vapes being thrown into landfill.”

John Dunne, Director General of the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), said the sector would welcome any government options that stop vape devices getting into children’s hands as long as any regulation around “marketing, disposables and flavours is proportionate and targeted”.

The Advertising Standards Authority said it was “keenly aware” that the marketing of vapes to children was an “area where people have a lot of concerns”.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation and review our policies, which includes discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care on the regulation of new products, to ensure that we’re protecting vulnerable audiences from any potential harms linked to e-cigarette advertising,” a spokesman added.

A DHSC spokesman said the UK has some of the “strongest regulations in place to prevent children from vaping”, adding: “We are clear that vaping should only be used to help people quit smoking – vapes should not be used by people under 18 or non-smokers – and we are exploring measures to address the use of disposable vaping products, particularly amongst children.”

Scottish Government drawing up plans to ban disposable vapes which could spark constitutional crisis

Senior SNP MPs have warned that the Government’s approach to disposable vapes could spark another constitutional crisis with vaping laws potentially different on both sides of the border. 

The Scottish Government is drawing up plans to ban the use of disposable vapes, whereas Westminster has ruled out such an approach, although it is considering applying a new levy on the devices. 

But SNP MP Phillipa Whitford said the Government’s Internal Markets Act meant there would be nothing Scotland could do to prevent disposable vapes entering the Scottish market from the rest of the UK. 

“This is why the Internal Market Act drives a coach and horses through devolution,” Dr Whitford said. “So before you get to the practicality it will create a political clash. Long before you’re going to get to practicalities of whether people drive over the border, you will already have the constitutional issues of whether it will be able to happen.”

Vaping is illegal for anyone under the age of 18, with concerns primarily focused on the growing use of disposable vapes on both health and environmental grounds. 

The products are not subject to any specific taxes and they are not required to follow prescriptive regulations set out for tobacco, which are banned from advertising and must be sold in plain packaging. 

The rise of the vaping industry is causing widespread concern within Whitehall, with Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting warning recently that the UK had “sleepwalked into the growth of a new industry in vaping, which has seen enormous take-up among children and young people who otherwise would not smoke”. 

Mr Streeting added that his “instinct” was to place the same restrictions on vaping products as tobacco products must adhere to.

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