We recently reported on the Government consultation which focuses on potential changes to the production and sale of vapes. As the opportunity to respond to this consultation draws to a close, the Independent British Trade Association (IBVTA) has released some essential statistics[i]. These statistics, provided via the Strategic Insight Agency Opinium, show how ex-smokers feel about the Government's proposal to introduce a vape tax. The report also reveals what a possible vape flavour ban may mean for those who rely on vapes to remain smoke-free.
Are Vapes Taxed in the UK?
Currently, vapes are subject to the standard rate of VAT which is 20%.
In January 2022, the UK Treasury stated that:
"The Government has no current plans to apply an excise duty to non-tobacco nicotine or vaping products. We believe these are an effective way of encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives."[ii]
Yet, it appears there could be a U-turn on the Government's previous acknowledgement of the efficacy of vapes as a quit-smoking tool. This is if the UK Government does indeed tax vaping products as is being considered in the consultation.
Why is the Government Considering a Tax on Vapes?
According to the BBC[iii], vaping is three times cheaper than smoking cigarettes. Our own Quit Smoking Calculator shows just how much you could save when switching from cigarettes to vapes. Groups such as Action on Smoking and Health believe that increasing the price of vapes will make them less appealing to teenagers. However, it's important to consider what a price rise would mean for adults who want to make the switch from smoking to vaping. Would a tax and subsequent price hike deter smokers from accessing this NHS-backed[iv] healthier alternative to smoking?
What will happen if vapes are taxed?
The IBVTA commissioned research reveals that a £5 tax on vapes could be extremely detrimental to the health of those who want to opt for a healthier lifestyle by quitting smoking and using vapes. Of the 6000 UK adults surveyed, 37% of current smokers and recent ex-smokers who have vaped said that this type of tax would make them consider:
- Buying illegal vapes
- Smoking more cigarettes
- Switching back to smoking completely
A tax on vapes could make them unaffordable to smokers wanting to switch and to vapers who have already stopped smoking. Furthermore, this tax would appear to completely contradict the Government's own 2030 smoke-free ambitions for England.
The Importance of Vape Flavours
Another feature of vapes being considered for the axe is flavour – specifically fruit and sweet vape flavours. The Government believes that these types of flavours "are too often targeted at children"[v] and is therefore considering a vape flavour ban for certain flavours. Yet, this could be considered an extremely myopic view as it suggests that only children, not adults, have a preference for sweet flavours. This position also fails to recognise the value of vapers being able to access a range of attractive vape flavours.
The IBVTA's report shows how important access to a range of flavours can be when smokers want to quit. According to the Opinium report, 59% of adults polled said having access to a wide range of vape flavours helped them reduce their smoking or prevented a return to smoking. Our own poll conducted on X (formerly Twitter) revealed that almost 83% of you cited vape flavours as a key factor in quitting smoking[vi]. The majority of vape flavours are sweet or fruit inspired flavours. Popular flavours such as Watermelon, and Blue Razz Lemonade are among the vape flavours that could face the chop. Banning these types of flavours could have potential health ramifications for current vapers and for smokers looking for a proven way to quit[vii].
Cancer Research UK Highlights the Importance of Vaping
There are many respected groups that support vaping as a tool for quitting smoking.
The world’s leading cancer charity, Cancer Research UK, wants the Government to be cautious when introducing any changes in vaping legislation. Cancer Research UK's Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell has said:
... "It's important to remember that based on current evidence, vaping is far less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and can help people to quit. The government is right to consider how any changes will impact people who use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool."
The NHS states:
"Nicotine vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking. It's also one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking."
Considering the Consequences of a Vape Tax and Vape Flavour Ban
The Government consultation has given many individuals, groups, and communities the opportunity to emphasise the importance of sensible access for adults to vaping products. It's hoped the Government will consider the results of the consultation very carefully before implementing any changes that may have a negative impact on vaping adults wanting to remain smoke-free.
The IBVTA's Chairman and our CEO, Marcus Saxton commented:
"This new research shows that if the Government were to restrict flavours or introduce a vape tax it would potentially push people back into smoking and damage the Government's chances of meeting its own smoke free 2030 target. We have no problem with proportionate regulation, but the Government needs to look at the compelling and growing evidence before it introduces measures that will have serious unintended consequences."
[i] IBVTA member commissioned research by Opinium of 6,000 UK adults (Fieldwork conducted in November 2023)