Vaping in the UK

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Vaping is an ever-growing trend in the UK, with millions reported to have tried out the hobby to date. Most vapers will feel that their billowing clouds of vapour aren’t hurting anyone; after all, it isn’t smoke, so what’s the harm? Since the UK is one of the most vape-friendly places in the world to date, many vapers are unaware of the growing number of establishments that don’t take kindly to it, with a general lack of transparency about where it is and isn’t okay. Here at Vape Mountain, we don’t want you running afoul of surly pub and small business owners, so we’ve put together a guide to where you’re allowed to vape in the UK, and where you should keep your kit stowed away.

Vaping Rules: The Framework

Vaping is a relatively new trend for businesses to keep up with, so it’s to be expected that there’s a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding the regulations. To make matters a bit simpler, Public Health England (PHE) have published a framework for businesses and employers to create their own policies about where and when it’s okay for their customers and employees to start puffing. The framework is based on the assumption that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to vape regulation, and businesses should instead form their regulations based on the specific needs and challenges of their situation.

Speaking on this framework, George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager said: “E-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, so it’s understandable that many people and businesses may not know how to deal with them. The evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco and they have the potential to help people give up a deadly addiction. It’s important the benefit of using them are maximised while reducing any negative impact, and organisations need independent advice from Public Health England to set out their own policies.”

With the context examined, let’s take a look at the five-fold guide for UK businesses.

1. Make a clear distinction between vaping and smoking.
2. Ensure policies are based on evidence of harm to bystanders.
3. Identify and manage risks of uptake by children and young people.
4. Support smokers to stop smoking and stay smokefree.
5. Support compliance with smokefree law and policies.

What Does it Mean?

On first inspection, these guidelines seem to stray off the beaten path for bureaucratic decrees by managing to be, for lack of a better word, reasonable. This framework takes into account that evidence suggests the risks vaping poses to users and bystanders are less apparent than with smoking, so vapouriser use should be at least slightly more acceptable than smoking in public places. It also notes though that smokefree policies must be respected and not undermined by vapers. Finally, and importantly, it mentions that risks to young people must be kept to a minimal level regardless of tobacco harm reduction aims.

These guidelines seem to provide business owners with a fair degree of leniency when it comes to choosing their own vaping policies. Owners of pubs or other adult-targeted establishments may feel that their business is more suited to allowing customers to vape undisturbed. By the same token, people running businesses that cater to children or have especially strict rules around smoking will be free to place regulations as strict as they see fit.

E-cigarette vaping in a cafe or bar

So Where Can I Vape?

Now that we know about the framework on which vaping allowances are based, and just how much room for movement there is within those regulations, we can start taking a look at how they’ve been implemented. As with all regulations surrounding e-cigarettes and vapourisers, attitudes and rules are constantly changing. As more information becomes available, businesses and governments will adapt their regulations accordingly, so don’t be surprised if something unexpected pops up in your vaping adventures.

Most public spaces in the UK won’t have any sort of specific regulations in place. In those sort of situations, as long as you respect the personal space of others, there shouldn’t be a problem. Vaping regulations start becoming a little trickier in four main types of establishment: airports; trains and buses; businesses; and sports stadiums. When it comes to airports, they’re especially complex, so it’s best to check out our in-depth blog on the subject. For the other three, we’ll do our best to break down the main points for you.

Trains and Buses

When it comes to vaping on trains, as with most other forms of public transport, you won’t have much luck. The claustrophobic spaces that trains and buses tend to provide mean that any vaping you do, while it may not be physically harmful to your fellow passengers, can be unequivocally annoying. Rather predictably then, vaping has been banned on the vast majority of train and bus services across the UK, including the Tube service in London. As of the writing of this article, Southeastern is currently the only UK-based train service that has yet to introduce a vaping ban, so if you live in Kent, get your vaping in while you can.

When it comes to buses, there tends to be a bit more variety. For example, vaping on National Express buses is a definite no-no. Comments from the company suggest it could lead to getting kicked off their buses without a refund. Likewise, London buses have banned all forms of vaping, so there seems to be no leeway at all when it comes to public transport in London. There is some hope though, as we’ve heard many reports of other bus companies allowing passengers to vape without issue, but it’s best to check with your driver before assuming, as the consequences can often outweigh the benefits.

No vaping allowed on trains or buses in London


Privately owned establishments are where vapers are most likely to find the majority of their cloud-puffing freedom. Since these rules are left entirely to the discretion of the owner, rules tend to vary depending on the clientele the business attracts, keeping in line with the PHE guidelines outlined above. You’re most likely to run into roadblocks when visiting large chain establishments, with many notable companies taking a hard stance against vapour. These include Wetherspoon's, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, All Bar One and KFC.

Aside from these outlying businesses, you’re likely to find a reasonably permissive attitude in this section of the market. Many pubs and restaurants around the UK will often attract customers who enjoy their pint with their e-liquid, with little complaint or hassle arising. In general, if you’re at your local pub or eatery, you aren’t likely to encounter any sort of problem when you feel the urge to have a puff.

Sports Stadiums

Since sports stadiums are a type of establishment that can often attract large scores of children, it’s no surprise that their regulations tend to be on the tighter side. In most stadiums, whether for football or rugby, rules follow the same guidelines imposed for smokers of cigarettes and cigars. For example, the EPL appears to have banned the use of electronic cigarettes in all of its affiliated stadiums, with patrons asked to leave the stadium or enter a smoking area to use their vapouriser. In one extreme example, an unlucky Man City fan was actually handcuffed and banned for using his electronic cigarette, though these actions were later overturned. Rugby organisations have yet to introduce a similar blanket bans, while their stadiums are reported to sport similar attitudes toward vaping.

Notable Mentions

The aforementioned sectors pretty well sum up the attitudes that vapers will run into in their day-to-day lives, but there are a few other notable points to be mentioned. In hospitals, for instance, use of e-cigarettes has been banned entirely in Scotland, but not in England and Wales. Even when a blanket ban isn’t in place though, some hospitals will take it upon themselves to stop patrons from smoking.

Wales presents a unique situation, as their government has made attempts to place e-cigarette use into the same category as traditional cigarette smoking. That means full bans in enclosed spaces, with no leniency for business owners. These attempts have been widely criticised, but if you’re a Welsh vaper, they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.

After It’s All Said and Done

Once all these allowances and regulations have been examined, one thing becomes clear: the powers-that-be in the UK are tolerant of vaping, but it certainly isn’t a love affair. While evidence-based guidelines from Public Health England are actually fairly lenient and permissive, actual implementation can vary greatly based on the specific needs and considerations of different businesses, with plenty of personal opinions making a sporadic impact. As more and more information is known about vaping and the potential benefits and downfalls, laws and regulations will no doubt become more informed, and with it, more consistent. For now though, before the impacts have been properly weighed, and before “No Vaping” signs are a common sight, the situation remains in a state of bedlam, with plenty of guesswork required to figure out exactly where you can and cannot vape. The one thing we know though is that vapers should be considerate of those around them, keeping their etiquette in check when the situation is unclear. By all accounts, if the wants and needs of fellow citizens are respected, most vape enthusiasts will be able to puff to their heart’s content without too much of a problem, with the exception of some outliers we mentioned above.

Want to know what vaping rules are like outside of the UK? Check out our Vaping Around the World blog.

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