A doctor explains why Elf and Geek vapes are seriously bad for you

woman smokes an elf bar
Why you should avoid using disposable vapes OLGA Zhukovskaya - Getty Images

If you've been out to a pub, club or bar as of late, or even just scrolling through TikTok, it's likely you'll have seen a few (read: a lot) of people with a colourful, disposable vape in their hands. With a range of flavours including banana, blue raspberry, cola and cotton candy, and with prices as low as £4, it's easy to see why more and more people find themselves picking up an Elf bar or a Lost Mary – particularly when they're splashed all over social media.

However, these sickly sweet plumes of smoke that have lingered in the air may soon be a thing of the past, after a spokesperson for Elf bar said the brand will be dropping its dessert and soft drink flavours.

The Bubblegum, Cotton Candy and Rainbow Candy flavours are set to be halted by Elf bar, with more flavours expected to follow suit. The Gummy Bear flavour has also been renamed Gummy, but is also expected to be dropped.

In an interview with the BBC, a representative of the brand said it may take some time for these changes to filter through the supply chain - so it may be a while before we stop seeing retailers selling these flavours altogether. As for the reason why? The flavours have been culled due to concerns over their appeal to younger teens.

Are Elf and Geek bars popular?

Statistics have shown the rapidly rising popularity of disposable vapes, with research revealing the number of e-cigarette users is increasing. Figures have now risen by 8.3% among adults in 2022 (the highest recorded rate), amounting to 4.3 million people in Great Britain. While refillable vapes are most common, the use of disposable vapes is also on the rise, particularly among younger adults. More than half (52.8%) of e-cigarette users aged 18-24-year used disposables as their main type in 2022, a huge jump from only 2.8% in 2021.

Elf bars, and its sister brand, Lost Mary, are the most popular brands of disposable vape available in the UK, making up more than half of total sales.

The company has been criticised before for its sweet flavours, with some accusing the vape manufacturer for appealing to children.

Are Elf and Geek bars bad for your health?

Like smoking traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vapes come with risks.

Last year, a 12-year-old from Belfast has been put into an induced coma after vaping ravaged her lungs.

Sarah Griffin, who suffers from asthma, was admitted to hospital after struggling to breathe. While in Royal Victoria Hospital, her vitals showed her oxygen levels were incredibly low - with medics deciding to put Sarah in a coma.

Doctors then informed the youngster's mother that Sarah had damaged her lungs by vaping, making it more difficult for her body to fight infection.

While Sarah has recovered, she continues to suffer from lethargy, and will be classed as a high-risk patient for the rest of her life.

Are Elf and Geek bars going to be banned?

Amid ongoing concerns about the easy accessibility of vapes to children and young people have now seen, the government has said it will ban the sale of disposable vapes in the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the ban (which is expected to to be introduced by 2025) during a visit to a school in early 2024. "As any parent or teacher knows, one of the most worrying trends at the moment is the rise in vaping among children, and so we must act before it becomes endemic.

"The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable," he said.

New powers will be introduced to restrict flavours which are specifically marketed at children and make packaging plainer, and the way shops display vapes will change, as they'll be moved away from products that appeal to children, like sweets.

a person with a bandana and glasses holding a bottle of soda
Getty Images

As well as dropping sweet flavours, Elf Bar manufacturers have previously called for tighter restrictions on vape sales, including a licencing regime for retailers, and rules requiring them to display vapes behind the counter.

"The introduction of such a regime would mitigate children's access to vapes and make it easier for the authorities to better regulate the sale of vaping devices. Furthermore, we believe it would help combat the growing illicit vape market and drive increased rates of vape recycling," an Elf Bar spokesman said.

Britain is following in the footsteps of many other countries in the Western world who have made efforts to curb the use of disposable vapes.

Australia has banned all vaping without a prescription, while Germany has prohibited flavoured e-cigarettes. New Zealand has outlawed most disposable vapes and put curbs on marketing to children.

What do doctors say about Elf and Geek bars?

Recently, one doctor took to social media to raise awareness of excessive vaping. Sharing a video with his now 36,000 TikTok followers, Dr Onkar Mudhar previously warned viewers against using the viral, disposable vapes they've seen all over their timelines. "Don't do it," the expert wrote in the caption, following up in the clip by saying "If you use Geek or Elf bars, it's bad news."

Dr Mudhar claimed: "Smoking a whole Geek or Elf bar is the equivalent of about 48 to 50 cigarettes. Both of these [bars] contain two milligrams of nicotine salt, so [the] equivalent 20 milligrams of nicotine."

As we all know, nicotine is highly addictive, but that's not the only thing about disposable vapes that's cause for concern. "Not only is nicotine in these devices super addictive, it also puts you at risk of developing gum disease, dry mouth, tooth decay and early tooth loss," he pointed out. "Furthermore, they can also cause bad breath. So try and avoid these at all costs."

His informative video has seen plenty of TikTokers taking to the comments section to thank the doctor for highlighting the dangers of these seemingly harmless bars. "How are people defending vapes?" questioned one person, with another adding "Vapes aren't classy or cool".

Others echoed the expert's concerns about how addictive and risky smoking disposable vapes can be, "I used two of them in two weeks, I haven't bought any since but I think I am addicted" commented one follower, while someone else said: "I used to vape... and now I know why I have tooth decay."

Last February, reports showed that Elf bars have been removed from some UK supermarket shelves after an investigation claimed they contained illegal nicotine levels.

And in May, BBC News unearthed unnamed vapes confiscated from school pupils containing high levels of lead, nickel and chromium, with investigations revealing that children using them could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead (which can affect the central nervous system and brain development), and nine times the safe amount of nickel (which can cause health problems including rhinitis, sinusitis, anosmia and more). The Inter Scientific laboratory in Liverpool analysed 18 vapes to find most hadn't gone through testing before being sold in the UK.

Prof Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said previously: “If you smoke, vaping is much safer; if you don’t smoke, don’t vape, and marketing to children is utterly unacceptable.”

Just a reminder, selling vapes to under 18s is illegal!

For more information on how to quit smoking/vaping, or to reach out for support, download the free NHS Quit Smoking app or contact the British Lung Foundation's helpline, here.

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