An influential committee of MPs has urged the government to consider bringing restrictions on packaging and marketing of vapes in line with those that apply to tobacco products, amid concerns over the rise in use among children.

The Health and Social Care Committee has written a letter to health and social care secretary Steve Barclay warning of ‘a rising trend’ in the number of children vaping, and calling for action to prevent under 18s from accessing vapes.

The move follows a committee evidence session which heard concerns from health and school leaders about an ‘increase in asthma, wheeze and bronchitis-type presentations’ in children which have been linked to vaping.

In the same session, hosted in June, a discussion also broke out on whether e-cigarettes and vapes should be made only available to purchase from pharmacies. During this, representatives of the UK vaping industry signalled their opposition to such a move, citing concerns about public perception.

Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and MP for Winchester, Steve Brine, wrote to health secretary with a list of actions his committee believes must be taken to help tackle the rise in vaping among children.

As part of this, the government has been urged to consider bringing restrictions on packaging and marketing of vapes in line with those that apply to tobacco products and to review resources and enforcement powers of trading standards to prevent vapes being sold to children.

In addition, the committee called on ministers to assess the impact of a proposed excise tax on disposable vapes, on the use of vapes among children and smokers on lower incomes. It suggested this would help to protect against imports of illegal products, which the committee felt was vital after hearing examples of vapes being found to contain chemicals including hydraulic oil and antifreeze.

The committee stressed that it believed the government would be able to maintain a public health message on the potential value of vapes in a smoking cessation tool, while ensuring that its ‘messaging and education, enforcement and regulatory approach keeps them out of sight and reach of children’.

Mr Brine said: ‘Decisive action is needed now from both government and industry to tackle an alarming trend in the number of children vaping and to protect them from its harmful effects.’

He said it was ‘clear to us that the vaping industry has not gone far enough to ensure that its products don’t appeal to children’.

‘When you have brightly coloured and branded vapes with flavours that name unicorns, sweets and popular fizzy drinks displayed in locations ranging from newsagents to chicken shops, it’s disingenuous for the industry to claim otherwise,’ added Mr Brine.

He urged ministers to focus on ‘the impact vaping is having in our schools’.

‘We’ve heard this issue is really impacting on the delivery of education in schools and, post-pandemic in particular, this is the last thing we can afford,’ said Mr Brine.

Last month, the committee heard the example of a health professional running an asthma clinic who ‘has many patients saying that they cannot use the toilets at school because there are a lot of kids in there vaping and it sets off their asthma’.

Laranya Caslin, principal at St George’s Academy in Sleaford, had told the committee how her school team estimated that a quarter (25%) of its students were vaping.

‘I would say that we have a significant proportion of students vaping,’ she told the committee.

‘They vape regularly and, in some cases, make excuses to leave lessons to go to the toilet to vape.’

The committee has demanded a response from the health secretary by 18 August.

The government has been approached for comment.