Steve Barclay ‘alarmed’ at threefold rise in vaping among children

12 October 2023

By Aubrey Allegretti, The Guardian

Health secretary voices concern at sweet-like marketing of e-cigarettes, as ministers plan curbs in England

The health secretary has expressed alarm at the number of children who vape tripling in three years, as ministers took the first step towards banning candy-coloured disposable versions of the product.

Steve Barclay said he was concerned “as a dad” by e-cigarettes being marketed like sweets.

While Barclay said vaping was better than smoking, he added: “For people that don’t smoke, they shouldn’t be vaping.”

Consultation has been launched on plans to crack down on youth vaping and ban smoking altogether, to create the first “smoke-free generation”.

Rishi Sunak announced plans last week to phase out the ability to buy cigarettes, by repeatedly raising the legal age at which they can be bought, so a 14-year-old today will never be allowed to. The consultation also aims to reduce the appeal, affordability and availability of vapes for children.

Barclay said: “As a father of young children, I’m alarmed as a dad about the fact that the number of children vaping has gone up threefold in the last three years, that one in five children have used vapes.”

He told Sky News: “It’s important we get the policy right, because actually vaping does have a role to play, particularly for adults that smoke. Vaping is better than smoking. But for people that don’t smoke, they shouldn’t be vaping.”

Barclay added “the marketing with bubblegum, the marketing of vapes like it’s a sweet shop … has to stop”.

The move to raise the legal age people can buy cigarettes at would stop people becoming addicted to smoking and finding it harder to quit, said Barclay. “If we can stop people smoking in the first place – four-fifths of them starting before the age of 20 – then obviously, that has a huge impact in terms of preventable health,” he said.

“It’s the single biggest change we can make in terms of public health.”

Proposals to enforce the changes could be included in the king’s speech on 7 November, when the government will set out the final laws it intends to propose before the next general election.

The move to ban smoking already has the backing of health experts, Labour and other opposition parties, as well as the leaders of the devolved nations.

Several Tory MPs have signalled their opposition to the plan, including the former prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.