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Illegal vapes biggest threat on high streets, Trading Standards officials say

January 19, 2023

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Illicit vapes are the products Trading Standards professionals are most concerned about on the UK’s high streets, a new survey has found.

As per the research conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) among its members, more than 60 per cent said that they are most worried about shops selling illicit vapes, or selling vaping products to children.

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.

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

At the same time, the professional body has also emphasised that vaping poses far less risk than smoking, which remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, adding that nicotine vaping is one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking.

“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,” John Herriman, CTSI chief executive, said.

“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), added: “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”

Provide more resources: ACS

Responding to the survey, the Association of the Convenience Stores (ACS) has called on the government to take urgent action to provide Trading Standards with adequate resources to tackle the trade of illegal vaping products in the UK.

Research conducted in 2022 by ACS of enforcement officers in Trading Standards across the UK has shown that 61 per cent don’t believe they have the resources to tackle the illicit tobacco market.

“The vaping category has grown significantly in recent years and sadly this also means that there has been a huge increase in the number of illicit vaping products that have been on sale in the UK,” James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said.

“The government needs to act now to provide Trading Standards with the resources needed to tackle the illicit vape market which is damaging to legitimate retailers and poses a real risk to the health of the individuals purchasing these products.”

ACS has developed guidance which includes everything that retailers need to know to recognise legitimate products, as well as the age verification policies that should be in place to ensure that products are only sold to those who are legally allowed to purchase them.