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France’s Plan to Ban Disposable E-Cigarettes for Environmental and Public Health Reasons

France is taking steps to ban disposable e-cigarettes, known locally as “puffs,” citing concerns over their environmental impact and effects on public health. Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne recently announced the impending ban on RTL radio, as part of a new anti-smoking initiative being developed by the government. Campaigners anticipate that the ban will be in effect by the end of the year. Several other European countries, including Germany, Belgium, and Ireland, have already introduced similar bans, and the UK is reportedly considering one as well.

Disposable vapes are readily available over the counter at tobacco shops in France and are priced at around €9 (£7.70), which is less expensive than a pack of 20 traditional cigarettes. These disposable devices are designed to provide approximately 600 puffs, roughly equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes.

France’s National Academy of Medicine has criticized disposable vapes, describing them as a “particularly sly trap for children and adolescents.” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne expressed concerns that these devices create a habit and familiarity with the act of vaping, which can subsequently lead young people to transition to tobacco smoking.

Campaigners accuse manufacturers, many of whom are based in China, of intentionally targeting teenagers with colorful packaging and a wide range of enticing flavors, reminiscent of a candy shop. These flavors include options like marshmallow, chocolate and hazelnut, watermelon, and ice candy.

According to the Alliance Against Tobacco (ACT), 13% of 13-16-year-olds in France have tried disposable vapes at least once, with most reporting that they started using them around the ages of 11 or 12. ACT President Loïc Josseran hails the ban as a “great victory for civil society,” emphasizing that disposable e-cigarettes act as a gateway to smoking for young individuals. He decries the tobacco industry’s tactics of targeting children, calling it an “epidemic” and a terrible influence.

A 16-year-old Parisian student named Sam shared his experience, stating that he began using disposable e-cigarettes two years ago when they first arrived in France. He was influenced by trends on platforms like TikTok and perceived them as less harmful than traditional tobacco. Sam favored flavors like iced grape and apricot and mentioned that if the ban is enacted, he would likely switch to regular vapes.

Although it is theoretically prohibited to purchase “puffs” if you are under the age of 18, Sam claims that it is easy to bypass these restrictions, as tobacconists often do not request age verification, according to ACT.

Environmental concerns have also been raised about disposable e-cigarettes. In the UK, a study conducted last year by the environmental organization Material Focus revealed that over one million disposable vaping devices were being discarded every week. Critics point out that each disposable e-cigarette contains plastic components and an irremovable battery with around 0.15 grams of lithium, in addition to nicotine salts and traces of heavy metals.

A group of French doctors and environmentalists expressed their concerns in Le Monde newspaper, characterizing disposable e-cigarettes as an “environmental plague” due to their adverse impact on the environment and the challenges associated with their disposal.