UK vaping laws: Where can you vape and which ones are legal?

A bill is being proposed to ban disposable vapes  (Getty Images)
A bill is being proposed to ban disposable vapes (Getty Images)

More than 40 per cent of smokers in Britain believe vaping is as dangerous or more dangerous than smoking, a new poll has revealed.

In Britain, it is estimated that nearly five million adults vape. Most of these people are ex-smokers.

Furthermore, figures from the NHS revealed that in 2021, nine per cent of children aged 11 to 15 used vapes, up from six per cent in 2018.

So what are the laws around vaping in the UK, and how old do you have to be to vape?

What is a vape?

A vape, short for vaporiser, is a device that is used to inhale vaporised substances instead of smoke. Vaping is a form of smoking without tobacco, which is the harmful part of cigarettes known to cause cancer.

A vape heats a liquid or an e-liquid (commonly called vape juice or e-juice), which usually contains nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals, into a vapour that is then inhaled by the user.

Vapes consist of a few basic components. They have a battery that provides power; an atomiser or heating element that vaporises the e-liquid; a tank or cartridge that holds the e-liquid; and a mouthpiece through which the vapour is inhaled.

When the user activates the device by pressing a button or inhaling, the battery powers the heating element, which then heats the e-liquid and turns it into vapour. This is then drawn into the user’s mouth and lungs.

What are the UK laws on vaping?

Vaping laws are a bit of a grey area and differ drastically from those regulating smoking.

At present, you must be 18 or older to buy and use a vape in the UK.

Vape cartridges — the liquid that goes in them — must not hold more than two millilitres of liquid or contain more than 20 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre.

While selling vapes to under 18s is illegal, nicotine-free products can be sold.

The Government is said to be looking into banning fruit-flavoured vapes in an effort to deter young people from taking up the habit.

Where can I vape in the UK?

Vaping is allowed in the UK at present and there are no nationwide legal restrictions or laws enforced on vaping in public areas. The use of vaping devices indoors is generally permitted in the UK, unless a specific establishment or public area has imposed a ban. However, individual businesses and organisations have the discretion to implement their own policies regarding vaping on their premises.

Go Smoke Free, an online site selling vapes, has listed how many councils have enforced customised restrictions in certain areas and there are local laws in force that prohibit vaping. The ban on smoking in the workplace or public areas does not apply to vaping, but this doesn’t allow you to vape anywhere you like.

Generally, this is down to whoever owns the specific area. Open public spaces are down to local authorities to rule on, but there should be clear signs if vaping is prohibited in certain areas.

How many children vape?

According to ASH, in 2023, 20.5 per cent of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8 per cent in 2022 and 13.9 per cent in 2020 before the first lockdown.

The majority had only vaped once or twice (11.6 per cent), while 7.6 per cent were currently vaping (3.9 per cent less than once a week, 3.6 per cent more than once a week) and the remainder (1.3 per cent in 2023) saying they no longer vape.

Can I vape in restaurants and pubs in the UK?

Again, this is down to the owners of each establishment you wish to use a vape in. There is no legal, blanket ban on vaping in pubs, restaurants or coffee shops.

But many have implemented bans, including large chains such as Starbucks, KFC, McDonald’s and Caffè Nero.

What are the health warnings on vapes?

In the UK, vaping products, including e-cigarettes, are required to display health warnings on their packaging about the potential risks associated with vaping. The specific warnings may vary slightly depending on the product but they cover the following:

  1. Nicotine content: As most e-liquids contain nicotine, a warning about nicotine addiction and its potential harmful effects is displayed. The warnings often state that the product contains nicotine, which is addictive.

  2. Underage use: To discourage the use of vaping products by minors, health warnings emphasise that the products are intended for adult smokers only and should not be used by people under the age of 18.

  3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Health warnings highlight the potential risks of using vaping products during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, advising against their use during these periods.

  4. General health advice: Some health warnings provide general advice, such as keeping vaping products out of the reach of children, seeking medical advice if experiencing adverse effects, and not using vaping products if allergic to any of the ingredients.

Cancer Research UK has warned that, although e-cigarettes and vapes are a lot safer than cigarettes, the long-term effects are not yet known. The charity says people who have never smoked shouldn’t use them and warns the decision is not risk-free.

The NHS agrees vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking but says it is not risk-free. It advises non-smokers not to take up vaping. Vaping does “expose users to fewer toxins” but Better Health, an NHS body, says the long-term effects cannot yet be known and it is “highly unlikely” to be danger-free.