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Environment / Youth worker keen to see councillors back campaign to ban single-use vapes

Laura Hughes says they are a big litter problem – having collected many off the streets of Scalloway

Laura Hughes with just some of the disposable vapes she came across littered in Scalloway in February. Photo: Dave Donaldson

SHETLAND councillors have been encouraged to get behind a national campaign to ban the sale of disposable vapes in Scotland – with environmental concerns at the forefront.

Youth workers leading the Eco Youth club in Scalloway have written to Shetland’s 23 councillors on the issue.

It comes after one of the youth workers, Laura Hughes, collected all of the many discarded single-use vapes she came across in Scalloway during February.

She was left with many handfuls of plastic cases as well as batteries and pieces of metal.

“Scalloway’s not big, so it’s a lot to find in a small area,” Hughes told Shetland News.

“That was me not really actively going out looking for them – that’s just ones I would have picked up as I was walking about.”

A vape, or e-cigarette, is a device that allows people to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke.

The law in Scotland makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to buy e-cigarettes or vapes.

They do not burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke. Both single-use and reusable vapes are available to buy.

Hughes said each disposable vape contains several components including a battery, an e-liquid chamber and usually plastic casing.

The Eco Youth team then wrote to all councillors in March to ask if they would support a campaign to ban disposable vapes in Scotland.

It also asks if they are “able to hold retailers up to their legal responsibilities”.

The local authority in Dundee was the first to do so, and it has been followed by the likes of Glasgow, Falkirk and North Ayrshire.

The letter written to councillors not only expresses concern about the environmental impact of disposable vapes, but also the attraction and availability they present to young people.

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The NHS said they have become a “very popular stop smoking aid in the UK” to get people off cigarettes.

The disposable vape litter found by Laura in Scalloway during February.

But the emergence of vapes with sweet flavours – such as watermelon, strawberry and cotton candy – is more leading more youngsters into vaping as a first port of call instead of it being a smoking substitute.

So far four of councillors have directly responded to the letter, including the Shetland South member Alex Armitage.

He represents the Scottish Greens, as well as working as a paediatrician.

“Whilst vaping can be a harm reduction technique for smokers who struggle to give up tobacco, I am extremely concerned about the number of young people who are becoming addicted to the drug nicotine through vaping,” Armitage said.

“Generally speaking, it’s my belief that all drugs should be legalised and regulated to the extent that harms, to the individual and society, and minimised.

“Currently vaping, though a legal drug, is not regulated enough, and I’m fully supportive of a ban on disposable vapes, which are often subversively targeted at young people, and frequently are the source of a litter hazard, as expressed in the eco youth club’s campaign, which I fully support.”

Hughes said she was feeling “pretty hopeful that they [councillors] are actually in the process about doing something about it”.

“The two main points that we’re focusing on was they’re targeting young people, and the environmental impact,” she added.

Speaking about the lack of ways to dispose of used vapes in a responsible manner, Hughes said: “Now I have a whole bag of vapes and I don’t know where I can recycle them. I went and collected all these vapes and I don’t know what I can do with them.”

The topic of vaping was raised at an NHS Shetland meeting on Tuesday, with planning, performance and projects officer Lucy Flaws saying vapes may be “better option than smoking, but it’s not something that we recommend”.

“The people who vapes are absolutely welcome to use smoking cessation services, if they’re trying to cut down or quit,” Flaws said.

She used the example of the proximity of the Brae Co-op to the village’s school when it came to accessibility to young people.

Research from environmental group Material Focus found that 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away in the UK every week, and the number of young people using them have increased sharply.

Hughes said: “My concern is more that it’s not people that smoke that have started vaping, it’s that people are starting to vape that didn’t smoke in the first place.”

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