May 23, 2023
Vaping industry cannot afford to rest on its laurels when it comes to addressing youth vaping, a regulatory expert warned, following new research that found ‘no significant change’ in the proportion of 11-to-17-year-olds ‘currently vaping’ over the past year.
Though this is welcome news for the industry, Lee Bryan, founder and chief executive of Arcus Compliance, said ‘much more’ still needs to be done to address underage access and discourage those illegally selling to children.
“The latest evidence from ASH, while positive, is not an excuse for us to pat ourselves on the back and call it a day,” he said. “So long as anyone under the age of 18 is using e-cigarettes and even one retailer is willing to supply them to minors, the industry, enforcement officials and regulators still have a job to do.”
Bryan highlighted further findings from the ASH youth survey which revealed non-specialist shops like off-licenses and newsagents were the main source of vapes for underage buyers.
“These rogue traders just won’t feel pressured to stop if they think the worst punishment they’re going to get for breaking the law is a slap on the wrist or a three-digit fine,” he said.
“Ramping up on the ground policing and bringing down the hammer on the illicit market should be a top priority – we simply can’t allow cowboy retailers to turn a profit by peddling vapes to kids.”
Bryan highlighted recommendations from the UK Vaping Industry Association for fines of up-to £10,000 for those caught selling e-cigarettes to minors as an ‘effective’ and ‘much-needed’ strategy to discourage bad actors.
He also endorsed calls for a retail registration scheme that would see strict standards imposed on anyone stocking vapes, saying it would increase accountability and allow regulators to dish out ‘swift punishment’ on those flouting the rules.
The Association of Convenience Stores has also reiterated its support for tough enforcement action against those who sell vapes and other age restricted products to underage customers, while reminding retailers of their age checking responsibilities after the ASH survey has shown that teens buy vapes from corner shops the most.
However, the compliance expert said the most ‘pressing’ step right now was improving support for bodies like Trading Standards, warning that the battle to end youth access ‘begins and ends’ with enforcement officials.
“Trading Standards agents make up the front line in this critical, ongoing fight against illegal sellers and underage vaping,” Bryan said.
“They are the people visiting shops, organising test purchasing efforts, handing out penalties and following up on tip offs, but there’s only so much they can do without the proper resources.
“The UK government’s recently announced ‘crackdown’ on the sector included greater investment in enforcement and the formation of a dedicated task force – but this is not enough.
“If lawmakers want to get serious about curbing underage vaping, they need to back Trading Standards with everything they can.”