The dangerous rise of the Elf Bars
Have you seen the colored sticks with blue lights hanging from the mouths of most teenagers and many adults? Elf Bars are colorful and sugary disposable vapes that are causing a wave of addiction in all age groups.
As the government seeks to rid the country of tobacco smokers, electronically delivered nicotine is becoming a new frontier.
People who have never smoked are becoming addicted to Elf Bars. And ex-smokers are turning to cigarettes to wean themselves off powerful pens.
Costing between £4 and £12 depending on where you buy them – they’re cheap. Watermelon, grape, cola, and cotton candy are just a few of the 28 flavors offered, and every user knows which flavors they love and which flavors they hate.
They contain around 48 cigarettes of nicotine – the maximum legally permitted level in the UK at 20mg per ml – so they’re that strong.
Elf Bar is the brand of choice. Other vapes can’t compete with them, they just aren’t the same.
In January 2021, less than 1% of 18-year-old vapers used disposable pens, but that figure rose to 57% in January 2022, according to research from the Department of Behavioral and Health Sciences at University College London .
Part of that increase is due to ease of access: you can buy them at any corner store worth its license, yes. But you can also get them from Amazon – the online retail giant, Zapp – the instant delivery service, Instagram – the photo app, and TikTok – the Chinese-owned viral video platform (#ElfBar a 727 million 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-18s, according to a survey by online vape store Vape Club.
IndieJuice, another retailer, said sales of disposable pens soared 279% towards the end of 2021. And around 12% of 11-17 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’re everywhere.
As you walk down the street, you’ll likely see someone sucking on one of the glow sticks. Inside it’s more or less the same, owners usually don’t care if you smoke Elf Bars inside. Compared to the reaction you would get from lighting up a cigarette, vapes are kosher. You can smoke them anywhere, so people tend to do that.
Clouds of concentrated smelly smoke disperse in clubs, bars, trains, taxis and offices. I haven’t seen anyone use an Elf Bar in the gym yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
People are now browsing single-use pens at shocking speeds. I know a handful of drug addicts who smoke at least once a day. They pucker their lips and choke the pen as they mindlessly ingest high levels of an addictive drug. They are gripped by the bar between their fingers”.
Many who had not used tobacco products before the rise of the Elf Bar now say they can smell a buildup of vape juice in their lungs. And those who used to smoke fags are turning to them to control their nicotine addiction, an absurd chain of events that is increasingly common.
But despite this, ministers want a vaping revolution. Around 14% of adults (six million) smoked in England in 2019, up from a fifth in 2011. And as part of the aim to achieve a smoke-free society in Britain by 2030, a range of policies are in planning. The selling age could increase each year from 2026, meaning anyone under the age of 14 would be banned from buying tobacco for life. Cigarettes can turn green or brown to deter people, and a 9:00 p.m. turnaround for smoking in movies or on TV is offered. Supermarket sales could also be banned with only specifically licensed premises able to sell tabs.
Dr Javed Khan’s review of government smoking policies called for NHS-prescribed e-cigarettes to be distributed as quickly as possible. He wants to mass-market vaping as an effective tool to help people quit smoking. Health Secretary Sajid Javid backs the idea.
OK, but are vapes a panacea? They are certainly treated that way by Khan. While heavily taxed cigarettes are hidden behind a sliding door at store checkouts, with their snot-colored packets plastered with health warnings and pictures of dead bodies, allusions to limp penises and other graphic images, the The unsuspecting Elf Bar stares us in the face, bright and cheerful, handy, just admitting it contains nicotine.
Although we don’t know much about the long-term effects of vaping, growing evidence suggests it’s bad for your mouth, teeth, and gums. And some people are already claiming that Elf Bars gave them gum disease. Those delicious puffs of nicotine could wreak havoc on our bodies.
We now understand that smoking is bad for us – it kills around half of its long-term users – but more needs to be done to stop people from becoming vapers. Elf Bars need to be less sexy. They are far from risk free and should not be treated as a quick fix.
It seems we just become more addicted to nicotine delivered to us in a different way – replacing an old habit with a new one – until it harms us as well. So what?