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Store fined £13,000 for selling illicit vapes

May 20, 2023

Photo: iStock

By: Chris Young, Local Democracy Reporter

A Company has been ordered to pay over £13,000 after it was caught selling illicit vapes in one of the first prosecutions of its kind in Bradford.

Trading Standards found around £20,000 worth of vapes that should not have been legally sold during a visit to Wibsey Local, on the village High Street, in November 2021.

The visit was made following a complaint about illegal tobacco being sold in the store, and officers also found over 260 packets of counterfeit cigarettes.

On Thursday the shop’s then owner Muhammad Nabaaz appeared at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court to plead guilty to 17 charges stemming from the Trading Standards visit.

He also pleaded guilty to the same 17 charges on behalf of his company, Wibsey Local Ltd.

Nabaaz, 41 of Parkside Road, no longer runs the business, having sold it since the raid.

Although Trading Standards often brings prosecutions against shop owners who sell illicit cigarettes, it is one of the first times charges relating to vapes have come before the court.

Magistrates were told that under current rules governing tobacco sales, vape products must have a maximum “tank capacity” of 2ml – which allows around 600 puffs.

Any more liquid than this, and vapes do not comply with the Tobacco Products Directive.

The nicotine strength of vape liquid cannot be more than 20mg per ml – around 2 per cent.

Mr Hallam, prosecuting on behalf of Trading Standards, told the court that some of the vape products in the store had tanks containing as much as 12ml – six times the amount legally allowed in the UK.

Other products had a tobacco strength two and a half times above the legal amount.

Eight of the charges related to the illegal vapes found in the store.

The others related to the illicit tobacco found in the shop – which included counterfeit packets of Richmond, Lambert and Butler and Benson and Hedges cigarettes.

Referring to the vapes, Mr Hallam said: “It is know known whether the extra amounts or the extra nicotine is harmful or not, but these liquids had not been tested by the MHRA to find out what is in them, so they could be more harmful than a legal vape otherwise would be.

“With the illicit cigarettes, there would have been no restrictions what went into them – they could contain anything, and they often do.”

He said in total Trading Standards had seized 260 packets of cigarettes and 2,000 illicit ecigs, worth around £20,000.

Mr Chowdry, defending Nabaaz, said he had run the shop for around two and a half years at the time of the inspection.

He had arrived in the UK from Iraq over two decades ago, and had worked his way up to owning his own business.

Referring to the cigarettes, he said: “He invested all his money into Wibsey Local, but it wasn’t doing too well. He fell into the temptation of bolstering his finances by selling illicit products.

“he knew full well the cigarettes were illegal.”

But he said he was less certain about the laws regarding vapes, adding: “Ignorance is no defence, but it can be used as mitigation.

“He had no idea these vapes were not compliant with the law. He was negligent because he hadn’t researched it.

“He bought the products from a wholesaler in Manchester, and they were on full display in the shop – there was no attempt to conceal these products.”

He said the boxes were clear about how many puffs each ecig would provide – even they were way above the legal limit.

Mr Chowdry added: “It is easy to understand how someone with limited understanding of laws would believe these are legitimate products. I would urge the court to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

He pointed out that Trading Standards had later returned some items that were legitimate, having mistakenly believed they were counterfeit.

Magistrates heard that Nabaaz had since sold on the shop, with Mr Chowdry saying: “He realised the business wasn’t for him.”

He said Nabaaz planned to dissolve the company he is director of, Wibsey Local Ltd – but acknowledged that it is still currently listed as being operational.

Magistrates fined the company £8,000 and ordered it to pay £5,000 costs to Trading Standards, as well as a £190 surcharge – a total of £13,190.

They asked to probation service write up a report on Mabaaz to determine the most suitable punishment.

He will be sentenced on June 29.