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Tackling fakes and teens   

June 1, 2022

Unsafe vapes seized from a shop in Aberdeen (Photo: Aberdeen Council)

The UK vape industry is growing at a rapid speed and so are the challenges, from underage sales to illicit products to manufacturing environmentally friendly products, which are hindering the reputation of the vape industry. Sales of e-cigarettes and vape products are highly regulated; therefore, retailers and manufacturers have a vital role to play to ensure that the products and their sale meet all the regulatory requirements.

Underage Sales

Several operations have been carried out by trading standards officials recently across the country, unearthing underage sales of vape products. Last month, six Swidon shops failed the test purchase carried out by the trading standards team to check whether retailers are complying with the law of underage sales of e-cigarettes.

To curb the rising underage sales of vape products, the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) has called for severe punishment for retailers who are indulged in the practice. The tade body wants fines increased to a minimum of £10,000 per instance for those retailers who are caught selling directly to those under the age of 18.

“The industry has a duty of care to young people. We need to send a strong message out to the minority of rogue retailers and wholesalers who do not care about breaking the law as they know they won’t get severely punished for doing so,” John Dunne, director general of the UKVIA, said.

“It’s also critical for the vaping sector to protect the reputation of the majority in the industry who are in it to help adult smokers quit through vaping which is considerably less harmful than smoking. We will be considering all options and ideas to make it as difficult as possible, and a significant financial risk, for vape products to be sold to children.”

Dunne called for consistency across the board, saying that any regime that is introduced to stamp out underage access to vapes needs to be applied to all retailers, including specialist vape stores and e-commerce sites, convenience stores, supermarkets, and online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.

Tom Gully, head of consumer marketing UK&I at Imperial Tobacco, believes manufacturers and retailers have a responsibility to proactively prevent underage sales and support youth access prevention measures.

“Retailers must implement an age verification policy and the process is in place and make sure that nicotine products are only marketed to and used by adults. With this in mind, we encourage retailers and their staff to familiarise themselves with Challenge 25 policies to ensure age verification on all tobacco and vape-related sales,” Gully said.

He also stressed the importance of regular training for store staff on responsible retailing. “In addition, all Imperial reps can support any retailers who want to ensure both themselves and their staff are operating responsibly by offering advice, support, and recommendations,” he added.

Juul Labs’ new retailer resource centre – juullabsretailer.co.uk – aims to help its retail partners understand how they can do their part to keep their communities safe and uphold their reputation as responsible retailers. This website features resources including Challenge 25 education and training, responsible retailing, mystery shopping programme, and retailer testimonials.

“Retailers play an active role in curbing underage access to age-restricted products, including JUUL products. Nicotine is addictive and can potentially be harmful, it would be best if no one used any nicotine product and anyone who smokes should quit. However, adult smokers who have not successfully quit should completely switch to potentially less harmful non-combustible nicotine products,” John Patterson, senior director sales UK at Juul Labs, said.

“Our purpose is to transition and completely switch adult smokers from combustible cigarettes. We ask all of our retail partners to join us in combating underage use.”

Gully added: “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.”

Illicit Products

Last month, trading standards officers in Aberdeen seized more than 100 illegal vapes from two city shops because they did not comply with product safety laws.

Under the UK law, the safe legal standard set for the capacity of an e-cigarette tank is 2ml but many of those seized were more than double this, ranging from 5ml to 8.5ml.

It is essential and the responsibility of the retailers to check the products that they are stocking complies with the MHRA requirement and has all the necessary information on them.

“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 non-smokers and non-vapers,” said Gully.

Many vape product manufacturers are addressing the challenge of counterfeit products. Recently, Geek Bar launched a new packaging that distinguishes the legitimacy of its products by emphasising the positioning of the security code.

The new packaging allows both retailers and consumers to check the authenticity of the product, avoiding any potential harm that may arise from using counterfeit products.

Sustainable practices

Ruth Forbes, head of responsible business projects at JTI UK emphasised the importance of environmentally friendly products and how retailers can act as responsible retailers by stocking such products.

“Responsible retailing also includes being conscious of your environmental impact. Reducing plastic bags and opting for refillable solutions on goods where possible can make a difference. Converting to digital paperwork is another great solution for retailers. JTI recently moved to digital invoicing in the independent channel, so retailers can now choose to sign up to receive their paperwork digitally rather than on a till roll,” she says.

“We are committed to supporting the environmental sustainability of our retail customers. Retailers looking for information and help on how to improve their environmental sustainability should visit JTIAdvance.co.uk”.

Meanehile, Juul is working on developing a takeback and recycling programme.

“We are planning a trial ‘pod take-back’ program with a third-party partner that is a global leader in innovative recycling. The contract partner is currently providing a regulatory assessment of our pods and the design of an appropriate supply chain to allow our adult consumers to return their pods by post or in retail stores,” he explained.