September 14, 2023 –France is set to ban disposable e-cigarettes – known locally as “puffs” – because of the danger they pose to the environment and public health.
Speaking recently on RTL radio, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said the measure was part of a new anti-smoking plan being drawn up by the government. It should be in force by the end of the year, campaigners said.
Several other countries in Europe, including Germany, Belgium and Ireland, have announced similar bans. The UK is also said to be considering one.
Sold over the counter by tobacconists, disposable vapes in France cost around €9 (£7.70) – less than a packet of 20 cigarettes. They are supposed to offer around 600 puffs – the rough equivalent of 40 cigarettes.
But France’s National Academy of Medicine described them as a “particularly sly trap for children and adolescents”.
According to Élisabeth Borne, “they create a reflex, a gesture, which children get used to, and then end up being drawn to tobacco”.
Campaigners accuse manufacturers – many based in China – of deliberately targeting teenagers, using bright colours and a range of flavours reminiscent of the sweet shop, for example marshmallow, chocolate and hazelnut, watermelon, and ice candy.
“[The ban] is a great victory for civil society. These disposable e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway to smoking for young people,” says ACT president Loïc Josseran.
“It’s become an epidemic. It is terrible how the tobacco industry has set out to hook children.”
Sam, a 16-year-old Paris schoolboy, said he began smoking disposable e-cigarettes two years ago, shortly after they first appeared in France.
“They were talking about it a lot on TikTok. It was like a trend. And I thought, yeah why not?
“They’re colourful, and in my head they are not as dangerous as tobacco. My favourites are iced grape and apricot. I guess if the ban goes ahead, I will start buying regular vapes.”
In theory it is not possible to buy “puffs” if you are under the age of 18, but Sam said it was easy to evade the restriction. According to ACT, tobacconists systematically refrain from asking for proof of age.
Campaigners have also highlighted the ecological damage caused by disposable e-cigarettes. In the UK, a study last year by the environmental organisation Material Focus found that more than one million devices were being thrown out every week.
“It’s an environmental plague,” a group of French doctors and environmentalists wrote in Le Monde newspaper earlier this year.
They said each disposable e-cigarette was made of plastic and contained a non-removable battery with around 0.15 grams of lithium, as well as nicotine salts and traces of heavy metals.