At the age of 18, this is when you officially become an adult. Not only do you have the right to vote in the UK and buy an alcoholic drink at a bar. But what about purchasing a vape kit or e-liquids? With the rise of underage vaping becoming a concern for parents, schools and the UK government itself, what is the official age to buy and use an e-cigarette legally?
“Can I Vape at 16?” - A Common Question Asked by Teenagers
The simple answer is no. You can not vape at 16 because the earliest legal age you can vape at is 18 years old in the UK. E-cigarettes contain nicotine which is an addictive substance found in cigarettes, which you can also not smoke legally till you turn 18. These rules are there for a reason. To prevent minors from the temptations of the 5000 unknown toxins in cigarettes and the addictive nicotine you can get with vaping, which is essentially a cessation tool, specifically for smokers. In recent times, with the rise of social media tools such as TikTok and Instagram, we have seen an increasing number of vaping promotions targeting UK youngsters from 11-16 years of age.
This has caused youthful and curious teenagers, whether 13 or 14 years old, to consider what it would be like to vape. Another unhealthy trend like smoking, despite understanding the risks. Regardless of your age below 18, you can not purchase any products associated with e-cigarettes, whether that’s the device itself, e-liquids (freebase nicotine or nic salt), coils, tanks or other accessories.
Some may also ask whether you can vape or smoke under the age of 18 if you have your parents permission? Again, the answer is no from a legal standpoint. Under no circumstances is it allowed and there is a reason for that. To prevent young children from turning to an unnecessary habit, which was only introduced to stop smoking.
Who is Liable Should Someone Underage Get Hold of a Vape?
The UK law states that anyone selling or buying any vape product for an underage person is solely responsible and could face criminal action. So think twice if you’re an adult before purchasing for someone or selling to someone under the age of 18. In contrast, there are no legal ramifications for an underage individual in possession of a vape, other than confiscation by police if under the age of 16. Any business that does not check for proof of age before selling in a shop or online can be faced with a fine of up to £2500.
Despite clear regulations in place, businesses can find ways around it with loopholes that hand out free e-cigarettes to underage children as samples. The UK government has yet to find a solution that prevents this.
In shops they must use the Think 25 principle and ask anybody who they believe looks under this age for ID. Failing to do so, a shop owner can ask that underage person to leave. And online, which is where much business is done due to the convenience, anybody visiting a vape store website needs to confirm their age before entering.
The Latest Statistics on Underage Vaping and Steps to Prevent it
One of the biggest changes based on studies and research from ASH is the increase in disposable vape use among young people aged between 11-18. This changed overnight from 2021 statistics, going from 7.7% preferred to 52%. Overall, more young people are using e-cigarettes in 2023 than 2022. However, those that choose to vape without ever picking up and using a cigarette is still relatively low in comparison.
A large majority of 11-17 year olds (83.8%) have not tried or are unaware of vaping. The most common reason for a young person between 11-17 picking up an e-cigarette that’s never smoked was to ‘give it a try’ (45.7%). And for those who already smoked, the answers were more mixed, with responses why they picked up a vape too including; ‘enjoy the experience’ (17.5%), ‘like the flavours’ (20.8%), ‘I am trying to quit smoking’ (10.7%), ‘I am addicted’ (10.3%) and ‘I use them instead of smoking (9.4%).
Do the Same Rules Apply Worldwide?
Although the age you’re legally allowed to vape is 18 in the UK, this is not necessarily the case in the rest of Europe and abroad. Different rules and vaping regulations are set worldwide based on the laws of each country. While there are general laws set by continental legislation, such as the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) within the EU, of which most countries follow, specific rules may vary.
Therefore, if you are planning to fly abroad with your favourite vape products, it’s important to check before boarding about the rules where you’re heading. For instance, in the US in 2019 they changed the age from 18 to 21 and over for purchasing vape products. In France, Germany, Lithuania, Switzerland, Spain and many other EU countries the age is also 18. The same is the case outside of Europe for countries such as Brazil, New Zealand and Senegal.
Until 2019 Belgium proved the exception to the rule by allowing 16 year olds and above to buy vape kits and nicotine-free e-liquids, but later banned the sale of all e-cigarette products to anyone below 18. While the legal age to vape remains the same in most nations, above all else, check before you depart to make sure and just remember when you return to the UK, the rules of 18 and over when holding e-cigarette products still apply.