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Illicit Vape Threat

Trading Standards experts were thrust into the media spotlight last week as fears were raised about illicit vapes posing a threat to the High Street

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Trading Standards experts were thrust into the media spotlight last week as fears were raised about illicit vapes posing a threat to the High Street. A rise in illicit vapes and underage sales is claimed to have sparked alarm among consumer protection professionals. The sensationalised coverage followed the release of research conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) which stated that “illicit vapes are the products Trading Standards professionals are most concerned about on the UK’s high streets.”

As high streets adapt in response to changes in consumer behaviour and growing economic pressures, CTSI asked its members to list the areas of high street enforcement work that are causing their local Trading Standards service the most concern. More than 60% said that they are most worried about shops selling illicit vapes, or selling vaping products to children,” said the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

Trading Standards has seen a surge in illicit sales of vaping products by specialist vape shops, convenience stores and corner shops over the past year, with more than 1.4 tonnes of illegal vapes seized in the last six months of 2022 in the North East of England alone.

Trading Standards teams across England and Wales reported a significant rise in underage vape sales last year.

The CTSI called on vape retailers to act responsibly and ensure they comply with the law when selling vaping products.

It was also keen to emphasise that vaping poses far less risk than smoking, which remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, adding: “nicotine vaping is one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking.”

Many of the devices seized by Trading Standards teams flout the rules on nicotine strength and tank size. The coverage also veered off into fantasy as they made claims that packaging designs and flavours encourage young people to take up vaping.

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “While we recognise that vaping can be a useful quitting aid for smokers, we are worried about increasing breaches of the law, with many non-compliant devices being sold on the UK’s high streets. There is also an increasing problem with vaping products being sold to children in many general retail premises such as mobile phone shops, gift shops and convenience stores.

“Trading Standards teams are doing vital work by cracking down on the unscrupulous retailers who are selling these products to young people without the legally required age verification checks. It is important that vaping products comply with rules that were established to safeguard public health, and that they do not end up in the hands of children.”

David MacKenzie, Chair of the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS), said: “Single-use vapes in particular are very cheap, they have bright colours, and they are attractive to children. With a lot of our age-restricted product work on tobacco and cigarettes, fireworks and traditional vapes, we’re looking at sales to 16- and 17-year-olds. But we were getting good information that these are being sold to much younger children, or certainly finding their way into the hands of 12- and 13-year-olds.”

Kate Pike, Tobacco Control Lead for Trading Standards North West said: “It is not surprising that Trading Standards Officers are concerned about shops selling illegal vapes and selling to children, as we have seen a big increase in reports from the public. It’s important we support retailers to ensure that products are sold responsibly to smokers looking to quit their dangerous habit and take action if retailers flout the law. If we don’t there’s a risk that products could be banned or over-regulated, leaving smokers without the option of a product which carries a fraction of the risks of smoking and is an extremely effective aid to quitting.

“Our internal data in the North West shows that a focus on enforcement activity has reduced the number of retailers who sell to children during test purchasing operations, which is definitely a step in the right direction. We would encourage people to continue to report to us when they have concerns”.

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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