Vaping on TV: Making an Ethical Impact?

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Vaping on TV: Making an Ethical Impact?

With the NHS publicly supporting vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking, we’re starting to see more fictional characters also making the change and vaping on TV.

In August 2022, viewers can see EastEnders character Ravi using what appears to be an Elux disposable vape – which contains more puffs than what is currently legal in the UK! Whether it was a prop or not, it raises the question as to whether showing vaping on TV is a good or bad influence.

Vaping on TV is not a new concept, but it’s becoming more visible as the number of vapers continues to rise in the UK. 

Let’s take a look at some examples, and see how vaping is depicted on our screens at home.

Vaping in the East End

This isn’t the first time that the beloved UK soap has shown the healthy smoking alternative during a broadcast. In 2017, viewers rallied to create a petition to encourage writers to have veteran EastEnders character Dot Cotton switch to vaping on TV.

Dot Cotton with a cigarette

Famously known as ‘the most renowned smoker in the UK’, Dot spent years on screen smoking cigarettes. During New Years Eve 2019, viewers noticed that she’d swapped over to an ecigarette, despite the actress continuing to smoke up until her death this year.

Dot Cotton with a cigarette

An Animated Enthusiasm to Vape

But it’s not just actors who are vaping! Vaping has also made its way over to the animated world too, with family favourite The Simpsons joining the bandwagon. In the 2015 episode entitled ‘Let’s Go Fly a Coot’, Bart Simpson takes up ecigarettes to impress a girl, but even the writers take an opportunity to mock how easy it is for children to get these products.

One scene shows the local shop owner tell Bart that ecigarettes are not for children, before running him through the flavour options.

apu the simpsons

Bart isn’t the only one though, as the episode shows his own grandfather and even his infant sister vaping on tv!


Although the episode is supposed to be a mocking of the situation, you cannot expect children to understand the sarcasm. The Simpsons writers did make some noticeable changes to beloved character Krusty the Clown in 2022, however, releasing a new line of merchandise for Krusty which removed the cigarette from his mouth and smoking jacket, elements the character was previously famously known for.

Following this episode, vapers alike fled to Reddit to share their thoughts. A high concern to them was the view that it gave of them as a community, particularly sparking a conversation about age restricted laws. Although the best UK vape stores conduct age verification, it’s well known that local shops and off-licences can be a lot more lenient with these rules.

Due to the surging popularity in disposable vapes, more and more of these establishments are stocking up for an easy buck. The UKVIA is hoping to increase fines to retailers who are selling vapes to minors—hopefully, for a minimum of £10,000.

Screen Time?: Vaping Time

It’s been a hot topic of conversation as to whether showing characters vaping on TV over smoking influences people to start vaping in the first place, especially the younger generation, who seemingly have more access than ever to nicotine-based devices. As part of the annual YouGov youth survey carried out in March, vaping amongst children aged 11-17 has supposedly risen from 4% to 7% since 2020.

Although tobacco-based imagery influences weren’t directly linked to a particular show or episode, according to a study by the Truth Initiative, researchers hypothesised that young people replace a cigarette with a ecigarette or vaping product as a ‘cooler alternative’. However, another report also by the Truth Initiative showed that youth and young adults with a high exposure to streams showing tobacco imagery were three times more likely to start vaping.

Vaping on TV: A Healthier Alternative?

Of course, the argument here isn’t whether vaping on screen influences smoking in the first place, it’s whether it’s influencing those to go with a healthier alternative. Although more young people are starting to vape, is this due to television, or would these people have started anyway and instead chose to vape?

Either way, ecigarettes will always be the best solution, vaping on TV or not.

You can find out more about youth vaping in our article about the ASH 2022 survey!

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