Alex Barton

The dangerous rise of Elf Bars

Are we swapping one bad habit for another?

The dangerous rise of Elf Bars
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Have you seen the colourful sticks with blue lights hanging out the mouths’ of most teens and many adults? Elf Bars are the colourful and sweet disposable vapes causing a wave of dependence across all age groups. 

While the government is looking to rid the nation of tobacco smokers, electronically delivered nicotine is becoming a new frontier.

People who have not smoked before are getting addicted to Elf Bars. And ex-smokers are turning back to cigarettes to wean themselves off the potent pens. 

Costing between £4 and £12 depending where you buy them — they are cheap. Watermelon, Grape, Cola and Cotton Candy are a few of the 28 flavours on offer, and each user knows the flavours they love and the flavours they hate.

They contain around 48 cigarettes worth of nicotine — the maximum level legally allowed in the UK at 20mg per ml — so they are strong too.

Elf Bar is the brand of choice. Other vapes can’t compete with when fielded against them, they are just not the same. 

In January 2021, less than one per cent of 18-year-old vapers used disposable pens, but that figure jumped to 57 percent by January 2022, according to a study by the Department of Behavioural Science and Health at University College London.

Part of that surge is due to easy access: you can buy them in every corner shop worth its licence, yes. But you can also get them on Amazon — the online retail giant, Zapp — the instant delivery service, Instagram — the picture app, and TikTok – the Chinese owned viral video platform (#ElfBar has 727million views on TikTok).

And while it’s illegal to sell nicotine products to anyone under the age of 18, these sellers don't require any age verification or ID.

Elf Bars were being sold on 205 unofficial TikTok accounts with a combined following of around half a million under-18’s, according to an investigation by online vape store Vape Club.

IndeJuice, another retailer, said sales of disposable pens rocketed by 279 per cent towards the end of 2021. And around 12 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds in Britain tried vaping last year, according to the charity Action on Smoking and Health. 

But it’s not just Gen-Z, it's everyone — and they are everywhere.

As you walk down the street you are likely to see someone sucking on one of the bright sticks. Indoors, it's more of the same, proprietors don’t generally mind if you smoke Elf Bars inside. When compared with the reaction you’d get for lighting up a cigarette, vapes are kosher. You can smoke them anywhere, so people tend to. 

Clouds of the concentrated smelly smoke disperse in clubs, bars, trains, taxis and offices. I’m yet to see someone use an Elf Bar in the gym but it’s only a matter of time. 

People are now running through the single-use pens at shocking speeds. I know a handful of addicts who smoke at least one a day. They pucker their lips and throttle the pen as they thoughtlessly ingest high levels of an addictive drug. They are gripped by the bar between their fingers’.

Many who hadn't used tobacco products before the rise of the Elf Bar now say they can feel a build up of vape juice in their lungs. And those who used to smoke fags are turning back to them to get their nicotine habit under control, an absurd chain of events that is increasingly common.

But despite this ministers are keen for a vaping revolution. Around 14 per cent of adults (six million) smoked in England in 2019, down from a fifth in 2011. And as part of the aim to achieve a smoke-free society in Britain by 2030 a series of policies are being planned. The age of sale may rise yearly from 2026, meaning anyone under 14 would be banned from buying tobacco for life. Cigarettes may become green or brown in order to put people off, and a 9.00pm watershed for film or TV smoking is being proposed. Supermarket sales could also be outlawed with only specifically licensed premises able to sell tabs.

Dr Javed Khan’s review into the government's smoking policies has called for NHS prescribed e-cigs to be doled out as rapidly as possible. He wants to mass market vaping as an effective tool to help people quit tobacco. Health Secretary Sajid Javid backs the idea. 

OK, but are vapes a panacea? They are certainly treated that way by Khan. While heavily taxed ciggies are hidden behind a sliding door at the checkout in shops, with their snot-coloured packs plastered with health warnings and pictures of dead bodies, allusions to limp penises and other graphic images, the unsuspecting Elf Bar stares us in the face, bright and cheery, within touching distance, simply admitting it contains nicotine. 

Although we don’t know much about the long-term effects of vaping, there is mounting evidence to suggest it is bad for your mouth, teeth and gums. And some people are already claiming Elf Bars have given them gum disease. These tasty hits of nicotine could be wreaking havoc on our bodies.

By now we've worked out that smoking is bad for us — it kills roughly half of its long-term users — but more should be done to stop people becoming vapers. Elf Bars need to be less sexy. They are far from risk free and shouldn't be treated like a silver bullet. 

It seems we are just becoming more addicted to nicotine delivered to us in a different way — replacing an old habit with a new one — until this turns out to harm us too. Then what?