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In the News

Psychology In The News: The Vaping Ban

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

18th March 2024

Disposable electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been available to buy in the UK since 2013 and now approximately 3.1 million of the UK population ‘vape’. In recent years, e-cigarettes have become a popular stop-smoking aid in the UK and in 2015, the NHS released a statement that e-cigarettes were ‘95% less harmful’ than tobacco cigarettes. However, the long-term health risks of vaping are not yet clear and the nicotine they contain is highly addictive.

Perhaps the greatest concern is that vaping among children is increasing dramatically with 9% of 11-15 year olds now using vapes and hospital admissions for children who vape have quadrupled in the past year.

The UK government released a consultation on smoking and vaping in October 2023 and the announcements made in January 2024 are a response to this. The actions taken as a result of the consultation are detailed as:

  • Stopping the sale of e-cigarettes in brightly coloured packaging, instead introducing plain packaging.
  • Stopping the sale of flavours designed to appeal to children such as Apple Peach, Cotton Candy Ice, Pink Grapefruit and Strawberry Kiwi.
  • Disposable vapes will no longer be available to buy, their cheap price point (of around £5) makes them affordable to children using their pocket money (notwithstanding the environmental impact of single-use plastic items).
  • Retailers are to be subject to on-the-spot fines if they are not carrying out ID checks on those buying e-cigarettes

So, you might be thinking how do all of these changes relate to what we know about human behaviour?

Firstly, biopsychology and the study of addiction tell us that nicotine in vapes can be highly addictive and affect brain development and function, especially in young people whose brains are still developing.

In addition, Social learning theory posits that people, especially children, learn behaviours by observing and imitating others. The rapid rise in vaping among young people could be partially explained by social learning - seeing friends, older siblings or celebrities vape (either in real life or on social media) makes it seem appealing and ‘cool’. Therefore, restricting vape access to young people will limit the access they have to ‘vaping models’.

Learning theories also involve the consideration of how reinforcement and consequences shape behaviours. Flavoured vapes and marketing make vaping appear rewarding and reinforcing to young users. Proposed bans on flavours and marketing could remove reinforcers supporting this learned behaviour.

What other areas of Psychology can you apply to the changes suggested by the government?


  1. In the blog, social learning theory is mentioned as a reason why young people may start to vape, use the following key terms to outline why a young person might vape having witnessed a celebrity they like vape on social media. Words to include in your answer: Identification / Modelling /Vicarious Reinforcement /Mediational Processes
  2. Some people would like vaping to be banned in public places (in the same way that smoking cigarettes is). How could you use your knowledge of social influence processes in social change to suggest how such groups could go about this?
  3. How could you use your knowledge of explanations of conformity to design a campaign to discourage young children from vaping in the first place?

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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