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‘Organised crime groups’ looking to cash in on illegal vapes in Newport

March 24, 2024

Photo: iStock

By: Nicholas Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter


“Organised crime groups” are wading into the vape business, with thousands of illegal products seized in Newport in the past three years.

The popularity of vapes, or electronic cigarettes, has surged in recent years, and criminals are looking to get in on the “potentially lucrative” market by selling unlicensed products to unsuspecting customers, according to a new crime report by the city council.

Criminal groups “have either diversified their illegal tobacco activities to include illegal vapes, or set up vape-only shops which have a set dressing of legal vapes but are established to sell illegal vapes”, the council warned.

In Newport, council officers have seized more than 2,000 disposable vapes and recorded one successful prosecution in the past three years.

Worryingly, traders are much more likely to sell vapes – legal or illegal – to under-18s than they are to sell cigarettes or tobacco products to the same age group, the council found.

Underage “test purchases” of tobacco are “rare” but the sale of vapes to young people in Newport is comparatively “high”.

Over the past three years, 13 sales were made during 39 attempted test purchases of vapes, representing a failure rate of one-in-three.

“This propensity to sell vapes to underage persons is reflected in the increasing use of vapes among young people, including when at school,” the council warned in its report on safety in Newport.

But even though dodgy vaping products pose a growing problem, they are a relatively new issue and in terms of scale they are dwarfed by ongoing work to tackle illegal tobacco sales in the city.

Over the same three year period, Newport Council officers targeting illicit products have seized 1.5 million cigarettes and 225 kilograms of tobacco, with a retail value of more than £1 million.

Officers have also closed 32 shops using anti-social behaviour legislation, frozen bank accounts and investigated 11 operations, leading to seven prosecutions.

The city council report warned the sale of illegal tobacco was “a threat to communities and businesses”, and data for Newport “shows significant threats from organised crime groups running illegal tobacco pop-up shops in previously empty properties”.

(Local Democracy Reporting Service)