Is taxing e-cigarette products the right way to reduce youth vaping in the UK?

A new levy to discourage children from vaping in the UK is likely to be introduced in the next year, but it is still uncertain exactly how the government intends to tax vape products.

The UK government appears to still be collecting information on the best way to proceed. One proposal has been to impose an excise duty of £4 on disposable vaping products.

A question in the eight-week consultation on the UK’s plan to create a smoke-free generation, which closed on 6th December after having received over 25,000 responses, was whether an increase in the price of vaping products would actually result in a reduction in youth vaping. (Though the greater question remains whether attempting to achieve such a reduction is even a good policy aim.)

Such a hike in tax would suggest a move away from establishing a complete ban on disposable products – a move advocated by some public health associations.

Yet it also raises concerns about whether taxing vaping products – or taxing, specifically, disposable vaping products – could drive people to the black market instead. And if that is the case, would the proposed tax increase truly help reduce youth vaping while still also achieving the overall aim of cutting smoking rates?

 

Vape tax hike could mean more demand for cigarettes

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    A study led by Micheal Pesko from the University of Missouri looked at how vaping taxes work. Although the study was conducted in the US, there are reasons to believe that its findings could also apply to the UK and predict the same scenario.

    This research, updated in September 2023, found that e-cigarette taxes would reduce youth e-cigarette consumption and retail-based purchasing while increasing the misperception that e-cigarettes are at least as dangerous as cigarettes. The study suggested that a proposed national e-cigarette tax would significantly increase the number of teenage smokers.

    The reason behind this could be related to the fact that vape products and cigarettes are economic substitutes. As a result, as some tobacco harm-reduction specialists have highlighted, the main issue with taxing vaping products is that if the government raises the price of these products, the demand for cigarettes would likely increase.

    Tobacco harm-reduction expert Clive Bates told ECigIntelligence: “If adolescents who would otherwise smoke take up vaping instead, that is a big benefit – potentially a lifetime diversion away from smoking. So even the objective of reducing youth vaping is questionable and comes with some significant trade-offs.”

    The UK government’s response to the consultation will be published ahead of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill’s introduction to Parliament in the new year. However, it is uncertain whether the government will allow Parliament to debate the consultation proposals before a draft bill is published, according to the response to a question asked by member of Parliament Mary Glindon of the Labour party at the end of last month.

    – Antonia Di Lorenzo ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Stefan Schweihofer

    Antonia Di Lorenzo

    Assistant news editor
    Antonia is a member of the editorial team and holds a masters degree in Law from the University of Naples Federico II, Italy. She moved in 2013 to London, where she completed a postgraduate course at the London School of Journalism. In the UK, she worked as a news reporter for a financial newswire and a magazine before moving to Barcelona in 2019.