June 7, 2021
Being up to speed with the latest regulation is vital for any store’s success. Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski speaks to the industry about how retailers can stay on the right side of the law
Any good retailer knows that being compliant with regulation is an essential part of being a successful business. Yet, with a fast-evolving and fast-growing category such as next generation nicotine products, it is understandable if the idea of keeping up-to-date with the latest restrictions or best practice can feel intimidating.
A great starting point, therefore, is taking the compliance standards that stores must meet for tobacco products and repeating this for these less-harmful nicotine products.
It is an approach that chimes with the advice of Ian Howell, fiscal and regulatory affairs manager at JTI UK:
“Simply put, it is illegal in England, Scotland and Wales to sell vaping products to anyone under the age of 18. We would recommend following the ‘Think 25 Scheme’ to ensure this does not happen.”
Duncan Cunningham, UK corporate affairs director at Imperial Tobacco & blu agrees that tobacco-style age restrictions – specifically Challenge 25 – is a vital policy for stores to enact when it comes to next generation nicotine products:
“Manufacturers and retailers have a responsibility to proactively prevent underage sales and support youth access prevention measures. As part of this, retailers must implement and demonstrate an age verification policy and process is in place and make sure that vape products are only marketed to and used by adults.”
And it’s important to remember that, as with tobacco products, retailers found in breach of these regulations could be in line for a fine of up to £2,500.
While Howell says this approach is a good starting point, vape products do have specific regulations they must adhere to, dependent on where they are located. “There are some minor differences between the UK countries, for example retailers in Scotland must register on the Nicotine Vapour Products Register,” he says. “Although Northern Ireland has not yet introduced similar restrictions, we recommend sellers of vaping products there adhere to the same conditions as those in England and Wales.”
It is clearly important that stores look at their own practices to ensure they adhere to regulations but, with so many manufacturers and product innovations emerging, it is also right that stores challenge product makers on how their ranges meet any relevant regulations.
“Our blu products fulfil the highest quality standards regarding design, manufacture and distribution, ingredients, e-liquids, as well as electronic and software functioning, and are sold in tamper-evident packaging to prevent minors from using or accessing our products,” says Duncan Cunningham.
“It’s important for retailers to consider various factors when deciding whether to stock a new product to ensure it meets the needs of their customers and also adheres to regulatory guidelines and that products, product descriptions and advertising must not be directed at, or designed specifically, to appeal to people under 18 years old or to non-smokers and non-vapers,” he added.
It is also worth remembering that, though restrictions on next generation nicotine products are rigorous as for cigarette sales, there are opportunities that are available for display and promotion that do not exist in the tobacco category.
“Within convenience stores, retailers can display, advertise and promote vaping products in and around the store. Eye-catching PoS and countertop display units can really help drive visibility and grab the attention of shoppers as soon as they walk through the door,” says Duncan Cunningham. “However, retailers must make sure that they are fully compliant with the Children and Young Persons Act 1991 by displaying a prominent notice in store stating that it is illegal to sell vape product to anyone under the age of 18.”
Cunningham adds that merchandising in-store must be focused towards those of legal purchase age: “When deciding on ways to display vape-related products, retailers must also ensure that they are merchandised only to appeal to adults by ensuring counter display units and gantry furniture are kept at adult eye level, and away from any child or adolescent-related products.”
One element store owners need to remember is that the UK stands as an almost-uniquely vape friendly regulatory environment with charities and public health bodies united in seeing vape as a way to meet the country’s Smoke Free target by 2030. As the government readies its response to a consultation on post-Brexit regulations for nicotine products, there is every chance that regulation may change once more – hopefully in a direction that helps stores transition more of their customers away from tobacco for good.
What support is available to retailers?
Suppliers suggest that the first port-of-call for any assistance when it comes to regulations is the teams of reps who, in the case of tobacco manufacturer-owned brands, have been offering similar guidance for decades.
“All Imperial reps are able to support any retailers who want to ensure both themselves and their staff are operating responsibly by offering advice, support and recommendations,” says Duncan Cunningham.
Alongside this Imperial and blu provide stores with resources, including staff training and free in-store materials, are available online, including on the Challenge 25 website.
JTI meanwhile has provided two campaigns which it says can help stores adhere to the necessary restrictions. One campaign is Identify, a youth access prevention scheme aimed reducing the number of independent retailers ‘At Risk’ of selling tobacco and vaping products to minors.
“Through test purchasing, the programme checks whether retailers are following “Challenge 25” best practice – where retailers ask for proof of age if the customer appears to be under the age of 25,” says Ian Howell. “In those stores found to be ‘At Risk’ of selling to minors, training is offered on behalf of JTI.”
This professional training is provided free-of-charge by Age Check Certification Services’s (ACCS) fully qualified Trading Standards professionals. JTI’s sales force also offer an 18+ “Vaping Tool Kit” which includes information on checking for proof of age, a refusal register and “Challenge 25” signage.
Finally, JTI also helps fund the ‘No ID, No Sale!’ campaign, which provides retailers with materials and advice to prevent under-age sales, and to remind shop staff and younger customers that valid proof-of-age is required when buying tobacco and vaping products.
Checklist for stores
Ian Howell, fiscal and regulatory affairs manager at JTI UK recommends stores use the below checklist to ensure that their store and their staff are fully compliant with the current laws and regulations.
Do you have signage around the shop about age-restricted products to remind staff and inform customers?