The British government said on Tuesday it would close a loophole that lets retailers give free samples of vapes to children in a clampdown on e-cigarettes, whose colourful designs and fruity flavours make them stand out on grocery store shelves.
"I am deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of schoolchildren," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in the statement released by the health department, referring to a BBC report last week.
"The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable."
The statement cited a 2023 survey by public health charity Action on Smoking and Health of 11 to 17-year-olds in which two out of five young people said they smoke vapes just to try it, while one in five said they do it due to peer pressure.
The issue is not unique to Britain, where selling vapes to under 18s is illegal. An estimated 2.55 million US middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes during the early part of 2022 in a survey, a level health officials said was "concerning."
"We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, whilst preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children," England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said in the statement.
The government said it would also review the rules on issuing fines to shops selling vapes to under 18s to allow local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices more easily.