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High street vendors and not online retail stores need to stand up and be counted when tackling u18s access to vaping, according to age verification experts

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High street vendors and not online retail stores need to stand up and be counted when tackling u18s access to vaping, according to age verification experts. The call comes in the wake of Government-commissioned report that could lead to a ban on online vape sales to safeguard children and new Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) statistics that highlight the significant number of illegal sales of vapes to minors in bricks and mortar stores.

Age verification experts 1account conducted a disposable vape ‘market test’, the results of which suggest that online age verification is doing a good job of keeping sales of disposables to minors at bay. The leading expert in youth vaping prevention believes the government needs to place the focus for addressing underage vape sales on the high street and not in the online retail environment.

The call by Ben Keirle, founder of 1account, a leading age and identity verification service provider and specialist in the retail sector, comes as the company has carried out a disposable vape ‘market test’ with vapesuperstore.co.uk, one of the largest online vape retailers in the UK.

The ‘market test’ found that of the total of all those who had failed to verify their age online prior to purchase, 70% were attempting to purchase disposable vapes exclusively; whilst those who passed online age verification, only 40% are shopping for disposables.

In contrast, the ASH report this month reveals that sales of vapes to under 18 year olds being as high as 46.5% in stores on the high street compared to just 10% online.

Says Keirle: “Our disposable vape ‘market test’ highlights that the main problem lies with physical stores. The ASH statistics suggest that disposables are increasingly popular among young people and our figures prove the efficacy of online age verification in protecting against these products falling into the wrong hands as every sale goes through an age verification process. The 10% of minors managing to buy online are almost certainly buying from sites who do not have age verification implemented and from what we’ve seen it is those sites that have a higher propensity to sell illegal capacity disposable vapes.”

The market ‘test’ also follows an independent review into tobacco control last month (June) – known as the Khan Review. Commissioned by the government to help shape its Smokefree 2030 strategy, the review highlights the pivotal contribution that vaping can make to achieve this ambition. However, the report highlights the increasing concerns around child access to vaping and recommends more research should be commissioned on how young people access vaping products online, going as far as saying that a ban on online vape sales should be considered in the future.

Keirle, who is also a member of the Youth Access Prevention Committee, run by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), continued: “From our standpoint, the vape industry's adoption of online age verification is comparable to the gambling industry which has 100% of licensed operators using verification. Our platform alone is used by around 40% of the UK online retailers of vaping products and the vaping trade bodies, including the IBVTA and UKVIA, both mandate that age verification by vape retailers is a condition of membership. Compared to the alcohol sector where online verification at the point of sale is still very much in its infancy, the vape industry is a good example of responsible retailing when it comes to e-commerce operations.

Our own insights, backed up by the ASH study, suggest that preventing the sale of age-restricted products over the counter (OTC) in physical retail outlets is the biggest issue which, if dealt with, would see far fewer minors purchasing vape products altogether and this is where the government needs to focus its attention. Compared to online sales of vaping products where every transaction is age verified, the same cannot be said of over-the-counter sales.

There are a number of challenges for in-person verification not least because challenge 25 has become increasingly difficult to implement in an increasingly diverse-rich community. Challenging someone can lead to abuse especially, and sadly too often does.. Training every UK shop assistant across multiple ages, languages and cultural backgrounds, so they know what the numerous anti-fraud features are on one of the accepted forms of photo ID, is also a huge challenge.

Such challenges call for tough action and retailers need to do the right thing and get behind initiatives that are being proposed by the UK Vaping Industry Association, including a retailer license scheme for the sale of vapes and fines of £10,000 per instance for those that break the law by selling to minors. Such moves, together with continuing advances in age and identity verification systems for both the online retail and in-store environment, will make it increasingly hard for young people to get their hands on vapes and ensure that the vaping industry can continue its substantial contribution towards making adult smoking obsolete by the next decade.”

Keirle also thinks the government should look at the possibility of allowing retailers to sell disposable products with increased minimum liquid capacity to help prevent U18s getting their hands on them.

He concluded: “2017 saw the outlawing of cigarettes sold in packs of 10 as research, acted on by lawmakers, suggested the lower price points of smaller pack sizes made them more accessible to minors. There’s a lot to be said for increasing the e-liquid capacity but keeping the same % nicotine content. Unit prices would rise substantially making them less affordable for children to buy.”

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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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