Representatives of the UK vaping industry have signalled their opposition to e-cigarettes being made only available to purchase from pharmacies, citing concerns about public perception.

In an evidence session last week, the Health and Social Care Committee heard of ongoing concerns around an increase in the number of children and young people using vape products and the negative impact this is having on their health and wellbeing.

School and children’s health leaders and representatives of the UK vaping industry appeared before the committee, which is exploring the trend and examining options to restrict access to vapes.

It follows a consultation launched by the government on action needed to reduce vaping among those under 18.

The shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, recently argued that managing the sale of vapes through community pharmacies only could have prevented soaring levels of vaping among children.

However, representatives of the vaping industry hit back at this suggestion, when asked by MPs during the committee meeting.

Marcus Saxton, chairman of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, said it would make ‘no sense’ to suggest that the public can buy tobacco anywhere, but that a vaping product which is ‘up to 95% safer’ is licensed through a pharmacy.

‘The negative consequence of considering such a thing will take us backwards years,’ he told the committee.

Meanwhile, John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said: ‘Lots of pharmacies stock vaping products, but I think it is important to make these products available wherever tobacco products are sold.’

He added: ‘For the most part smokers are not making a conscious decision. They do not walk into a store and go, “Oh, I’m going in there to buy an e-cigarette”.

‘It is generally a spontaneous decision in the first place to go, “Do I buy a pack of cigarettes, or do I try something different?”

‘That is why it is very important to have those products available where consumers are buying.’

When shadow health secretary Mr Streeting made the case at NHS Confed Expo last month, pharmacy leaders suggested that making e-cigarettes a regulated pharmacy-only product ‘could bring much needed control’ and ‘stop young people using vaping as a gateway to smoking’.

The committee meeting also heard from Dr Helen Stewart, officer for child protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who warned of the negative impact vaping was having on children and young people.

She said: ‘We are certainly seeing an increase in asthma, wheeze and bronchitis-type presentations that can be linked to vaping.

‘There is a lot of emerging evidence about other potential complications.’

While she recognised that there was not enough ‘long-term data’ on the impacts of vaping since it was introduced in the UK in 2007, she stressed action was needed now to prevent further damage caused to children and young people.

Dr Stewart said the college would much rather see vapes banned now, ‘than wait for the 30 years it took to understand the effect of smoking, when the chicken has flown the coop’.

She then highlighted the experience of a colleague who runs asthma clinics.

‘He 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,’ Dr Stewart told the committee.

She added: ‘It is a real and present health issue for a lot of children and young people.’

Meanwhile, Laranya Caslin, principal at St George’s Academy in Sleaford, said 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.’

She added: ‘What concerns me is the rate of increase of teenagers taking up vaping.

‘Many lovely students, who I do not think would ever dream of smoking or having a sneaky cigarette, have been drawn into vaping much more easily because it is perceived to be safe and because of the chat around the flavours and being “in”, and part of the peer-to-peer conversations you need if you are to be in that crowd. Those are my worries.’