IN the few minutes that it takes to read this column, more than 400 disposable vapes will have been discarded across the UK. With a staggering 1.3 million of them littered every week, they have become the cotton bud of our time.

They have become a permanent presence on our landscape. Vapes are turning up everywhere – they are littering our high streets and residential roads, our parks and nature reserves. They are even being found on local beach clean-ups.

My inbox has been full of complaints. Whether it is anxious parents with children who have started using them or residents who are sick of seeing them all over our pavements.

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Cheap, easily available and full of single-use plastic and lithium, they are every environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

They are difficult to safely dispose of and present a fire risk. They are the exact antithesis of what we mean when we walk about reusing, reducing and recycling.

On the contrary, they epitomise throwaway culture and produce a ridiculous and totally unnecessary amount of waste. That is why they have become a thorn in the side of every refuse collector or community litter picker.

As one colleague remarked to me earlier this week, it would be very hard to conceive of a more socially irresponsible and needlessly destructive product, especially in a climate crisis. To be fair, he knows the problem particularly well – with a flat only a stone’s throw away from vape shops and newsagents, his front garden is always full of them.

READ MORE: How do you recycle a disposable vape in Scotland?

It goes way beyond smoking behind the bike shed, this is the work of a multi-million-pound industry that is all too aware of the damage it is doing and doesn’t care.

Instead, it is purposefully targeting young people with a combination of cheap throwaway goods, fruity flavours and colourful marketing.

I can still remember the first time I smoked. It was a cigarette and it tasted absolutely horrible. It was like inhaling tar and left me coughing my lungs up.

Thankfully it only served to put me off them for life. However, had it tasted of raspberry, mango, watermelon or any of the other fancy flavours, I may not have had such an aversion.

That’s one of the things that concerns me the most about the rise of these vapes. It is like watching a rerun of when alcopops first appeared on the scene.

The companies are purposefully using sweet-toothed tactics in order to make them more appealing to teenagers who would be far less likely to take up smoking otherwise.

It’s one of the ironies of the situation. Cigarette sales have been falling for years, not least because of interventions regarding packaging and cost.

READ MORE: Disposable vapes face BAN as urgent review launched in Scotland

Just when we thought one public health battle was being won, a whole new one has emerged. Vaping, which was once marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, is now becoming a far trendier replacement for them.

All over the country there are people calling for change, whether it is committed community campaigners like the fantastic Less Waste Laura, who has done so much to shine a light on the scale of the problem, or the growing list of local authorities that have joined the calls for a ban.

At present, my Scottish Greens colleague Lorna Slater is undertaking a review into their impact for the Scottish Government. I hope that the review will come back calling for a full ban or at least serious curbs to reduce their environmental impact.

The National: Lorna Slater

But it’s not only a question for government. There is also a big role for retailers, most of which can be done tomorrow on a voluntary basis and wouldn’t require any kind of parliamentary legislation.

Bearing in mind the harm they do, these colourful sticks shouldn’t be out and proudly on display.

One of the biggest steps that retailers could take would be to hide them from sight, just like we already do to other harmful and controlled products.

They could also do far more than they are to highlight how and where they can be responsibly disposed of in store.

Last year, Waitrose went one step further by opting to become the first supermarket chain to take them off its shelves entirely. With Sainsbury’s undertaking a review of their displays, I sincerely hope that they aren’t the last and that others follow.

With ongoing research and concerns about the health implications of vaping, we don’t know the long-term impacts of this newfound trend, but it won’t be good, and, without action, there will be a sea of plastic for us to wade through between now and then.

Scotland has a proud history of leading the UK on preventative healthcare, from the public smoking ban of 2004 to minimum pricing of alcohol. These measures have made us a healthier and better country.

It is in the same spirit that I hope we can build on this progress and finally end the damage being done by disposable vapes.