Industry Intel

The Trading Standards War Against Vapes.

Thomas Graham

Team Leader | Trading Standards & Licensing

Mar 21, 2023

Vaping is a popular alternative to smoking tobacco. However, it’s also popular with Trading Standards departments, too.

Vaping is a £1bn+ industry with 3.6 million regular users in the UK.

Though vapes are age-restricted, mainly because of the addictive chemical nicotine, the younger generation are still getting their hands on them. This includes vapes that contain illegal amounts of nicotine.

Just this past year, it’s estimated that vaping use doubled amongst 16 – 18-year-olds, which is concerning, as this could have implications to young people’s health, including brain development. The increase in use amongst the younger generation could be down to a number of factors, including: them being accessible in price, brands using vibrant colours, sponsoring popular music festivals and events, manufacturing appealing flavours, and even paying social media ‘influencers’ to promote.

Vape marketing and promotion is so prevalent, that over half of 11 to 17-year-olds have reported being aware of e-cigarette promotion.

What makes Vapes and other E-Cigarettes illegal?

Non-Compliancy with the legal limits to the size of the tanks (2ml), nicotine levels (20mg), and the written information on and within the packaging are just a few examples of why some Vapes and E-Cigarettes aren’t deemed fit for sale and/or use. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that a third of vapes available on the high-street are non-compliant.

This is where Trading Standards comes in…

Trading Standards departments can support and educate shops and sellers with advice about underage sales and illegal vapes. However, at times, they must turn to enforcement actions. One example is test purchases - consenting underage children are tasked to purchase restricted products in a supervised way. Raids with joint task forces including the police are also becoming more and more common in shops and stash houses.

Just a quick Google search of ‘Vapes’ will be met with articles like: “£100k worth of illegal vapes seized”, and “12,000 illegal vapes found in raids”. Recently 1400kg of these counterfeit vapes were seized by a joint effort with Trading Standards Departments in the North East.

The teams conducted test purchases at 32 retailers in the North-East. 44% of the retailers sold vaping devices to an underage volunteer. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and purchase a vape, at 12 years old.

The scale of the issue is ever-growing, but do Trading Standard departments have enough resources to combat these sales?

The majority of Trading Standard managers and seniors that we speak with reflect the same observation: there seems to be no end in sight.

Teams across the country have increasing workloads within the illicit tobacco and counterfeit goods legislations, however, they are met with budget cuts, year after year. Due to the reduced budgets, many teams' resourcing, staffing, and training are disrupted. However, as this issue is becoming more and more prevalent in mainstream media, local government seniors and parliamentary leaders are taking higher notice of the issue, giving hope for the future of TS departments.

In general, we aren’t saying vaping is an awful habit, however there are threats vaping has on vulnerable individuals, that we should all be made more aware of. This emphasises the importance of Trading Standards impact on safety and well-being, in particular for the younger generation.

Feel free to reach out to me to discuss this further, any insights are useful

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Team Leader | Trading Standards & Licensing

Thomas Graham

Tommy’s genuine interest in his industry means he goes above and beyond to learn the intricacies of the roles he recruits for, to really understand and confidently discuss the technical skills of his candidates. He wants to be able to advise and guide his clients and candidates from a place of knowledge and understanding. Tommy will always be direct and to the point, so you’ll always know where you stand, and he’ll persist in any task he takes on until he achieves what he set out to.

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