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Over four million illegal vapes seized at border

January 29, 2024


The number of illegally imported vapes seized at the UK border quadrupled in the last year, new data has revealed as authorities continue to wrestle with illegal products in the market.

New figures, released to the BBC in response to a Freedom of Information request, show more than 4.5 million vapes were seized by the UK Border Force between January and October last year. Just 4,430 vapes were seized in 2021, rising to 988,064 in 2022, and soaring to 4,537,689 in 2023.

Disposable e-cigarettes have strict limits on their nicotine levels in the UK – just 2ml of liquid with 20mg of nicotine per millilitre provide around 500-600 puffs of vapour. However, Chinese-made vapes which contain much larger amounts of liquid and promise thousands of puffs are widely available in the UK.

Unlike legal vapes, illegal e-cigarettes are not registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and do not pass through quality control processes so may contain harmful chemicals.

And retailers prepared to flout product rules may not be scrupulous about observing the ban on selling to under-18s.

A Home Office spokesman stated that the Government would “not tolerate the sale of illegal products and… harmful goods, such as illegal or counterfeit vapes”.

Last April the government announced £3m for a “crackdown” on illegal vapes and underage sales.

Under Operation Joseph, Trading Standards seized more than one million vapes last year with officers visiting 2,000 retail premises, during which they found evidence 500 were willing to sell to minors.

Meanwhile, Vape Club carried out its own research and sent FOI requests to 389 councils around the UK, asking Trading Standards officers how many vapes had been seized over the past five years.

Among the 152 replies, the total number of seizures had risen from from next to none in 2020, to more than 1.5 million last year.

The government is soon expected to introduce new rules to tighten up the market, which could range from an outright ban on disposable vapes to a licencing scheme for retailers and a tax. Supporters of a tax on the single-use products argue that putting them through the same tightly controlled system as cigarettes and alcohol would help to reduce illegal imports.