Vaping has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the years. From its niche beginnings as a device to help those trying to quit smoking, vaping has become a worldwide phenomenon and the largest competitor of the traditional tobacco industry. Aside from just an alternative method of nicotine dosing, vaping has developed into an entire community based around the technology of vaporisers and the development of E-liquids, including CBD-infused and nicotine-free liquids.

Curiously, this has led to one of the greatest controversies of vaping’s short existence. The continued development of E-liquid flavours, particularly fruity and ‘sweet’ ones, has led to accusations of vape companies targeting underage people as an element of their consumer base. Whilst every nation where vaping is legal has suffered this to some extent, the country most heavily affected is by far the United States. The US has seen various legislative actions aimed to limit underage access to vaping products, such as the Tobacco 21 law and the FDA’s 2016 ruling on vape products, whilst also seeing one of the largest rates of underage vaping in the world. The estimated 5.2 million US teenagers who currently are vaping or have vaped, which outnumbers the UK’s entire adult vaping population, is a staggering statistic. Such numbers raise the question of how vaping is regulated and what age a person should be in order to engage in it.


In the United Kingdom the legal selling age for a vape product is 18. This places it squarely in line with most adult substances, including alcohol and conventional tobacco. Whereas the US practices a system of regulation that considers everything, from nicotine infused E-liquids to the software that controls more advanced vapes, as specifically a tobacco product, UK law contains a certain grey-zone. Technically, an individual under the age of 18 would be able to buy an E-liquid so long as it contained no nicotine or CBD.

No reputable seller would ever sell a vape product to anyone under the age of 18. Such an action, aside from potentially incurring a fine of up to £2,500 would indisputably damage the reputation of that vendor. When it comes to the status and future of the vaping industry, it is in these areas that the greatest outcomes will be decided. It is from the actions of the entire industry, or lack thereof, where accusations of amoral standards and products designed to target minors come from. Without a firm stance against this kind of irresponsible business practice, everyone from vaping manufacturers to high street stockists risk damaging the future of their industry.

UK law


Asking “how old do you have to be to vape” is all well and good, but unless that restriction is enforced it means very little. The issue of underage vaping is, like any underage activity, one that persists despite legislation. Although UK law states that an individual has to be 18 years of age in order to purchase a vape product, evidence indicates that there exists a significant portion of the UK adolescent population that have vaped or are vaping.

Underage vaping is a problem that exists across the country. In England specifically, it seems to be divided roughly along north-south lines. Research seems to indicate that approximately 20% of 15-year-olds in Yorkshire and Humber vape, compared to 3% of 15-year-olds in London and other southern counties. Various factors could be the cause of this, but whatever the root an effort to curb underage vaping will be a nationwide one, involving the support of the government, the population, and the vaping industry as a whole.

These statistics are often cited as proof of the vaping industry having targeted minors with their more colourful, ‘sweet’ flavoured products. E-liquids, both infused and otherwise, have the benefit of easily being tailored to a range of different flavours. Some of the most popular E-liquids mimic the flavour of popular sweet brands, fizzy drinks and various kinds of desserts, and their marketing material tends to highlight this. Of course this is not illegal and the popularity of these E-liquids amongst adults is proof of its effectiveness as a product. However, for the sake of its continued reputation, the vaping industry in the UK may find itself having to take further steps to discourage underage vaping and distance itself from this misuse of its product.


One particular way this could be achieved is by highlighting the usefulness of vapes in the effort of quitting smoking. Some of the earliest E-cigarettes were designed specifically for the purpose of helping people find a satisfying alternative to smoking that avoided some of the harshest elements of tobacco. Although inhaled nicotine is always dangerous, not to mention that studies have proven E-liquids to have various negative effects on the lungs, it remains true that the vast majority of toxins in tobacco are not present in UK sold E-liquids. The lack of carbon monoxide alone removes one of the largest hazards of smoking, whilst studies have indicated that there can be as much as a 95% reduction in dangers to health when vaping rather than smoking.

As a direct competitor to the traditional tobacco industry, vaping has been singularly successful. The UK has seen a noticeable decline in smokers since vaping became popular. As laws and workplace regulations have caught up with the status of vapes over the years, this trend has only increased. Far from being a gateway that encourages more people into traditional smoking, the evidence suggests that vaping is indeed effective at helping people to quit smoking.

That is not to say vaping is without its danger: it comes with its own health risks, just like every other recreational substance. From the viewpoint purely concerned with individual health, no nicotine habit is always the best option. When it comes to the health of the lungs, a nicotine patch will always be preferable to either a cigarette or a vape. However, as a means of helping people move away from a cigarette habit, vaping has immense potential.

Quitting smoking


So, how old do you have to be to vape? In the UK the answer is without a doubt 18 years of age. Like anything age-restricted underage people will try to access it regardless, a trend we know exists in everything from tobacco to video games, TV shows to alcohol. When it comes to the vaping industry, previous assumptions of safety standards as well as the popularity of ‘sweet’ flavoured E-liquids has created a reputation of attempting to circumvent these age restrictions.

We know that vaping is popular amongst young people the world over, with the Unites States suffering perhaps the worst in cases of underage vaping. Although no reputable UK merchandiser would ever sell a vape product to someone under the age of 18, it isn’t enough to simply take this status as granted. As a whole the vaping industry needs to take steps to move itself away from this poor reputation, scaling back the kind of branding that forms the basis of accusations that manufacturers and retailers are targeting minors. One way to do this is to highlight the use of vapes for quitting smoking, the original purpose behind the first commercial E-cigarettes. Although merchandisers would have to be careful not to suggest that vaping is actively healthy, nor indeed to downplay the dangers of vaping and the need for more long-term study, taking the stance of a medium by which one can break a cigarette habit is a quantifiable, reputable position to adopt.

Vaping is still young by the standards of any worldwide industry, and it still has a lot to learn. As the world adapts and we see more communities engaging with it, it is vital for the sake of the industry to maintain a reputation as respectable as any other.

Enjoy this post? Check out our health and lifestyle blog posts for articles like this.