Since the craze took the UK by storm last year (2021) disposable vaping is now everywhere we look. Even retailers who previously carried only a meagre selection of vaping products have introduced a healthy variety of the compact, single-use vaping devices to capitalise on the staggering demand.
Despite their popularity, the pace at which disposables have shot to the top of nationwide best-selling lists has brought more than it’s fair share of concerns. You can learn more about the inherent risks and issues posed by them in our blog, The Dangers of Disposable Vapes.
Aside from the environmental risks, one of the most prevalent concerns about disposables is their inherent appeal to younger demographics. This fear stems from the brightly coloured packaging and wide variety of flavours available, many of which recreate iconic sweet and beverage profiles. These fears are only compounded when the appealing products are combined with a retail environment which is focussed more on cashing-in on quick sales at the behest of the trend, rather than operating safely.
Lancashire Crackdown on Underage Vape Sales
This was unfortunately the reality across Lancashire this month (March 2022) as a crackdown by Lancs County Council revealed that a staggering third of Lancashire shops visited by Trading Standards were confirmed to be selling vaping products to children. The investigation was carried out in response to a steep rise in reports of underage vape sales.
The joint test purchasing operation between Lancashire County Council trading standards officers and the police, utilised underaged volunteers aged between 14 and 16. These volunteers entered 29 Lancashire retailers and were successfully able to purchase a disposable vaping device from 11 of them. The illegal sales occurred in the Chorley, Leyland, Rawtenstall, Fleetwood, Cleveleys, Lancaster, Morecambe, Preston, and Kirkham areas.
Penalties for underage vape sales
Investigations into the sales are still ongoing, however some fines have already been handed out to offenders. Newsagent owner Gulam Patel received a fine of £166 and was ordered to pay £275 in costs. Mr Patel’s shop assistant, Maqbul Hussain was responsible for selling the vaping products to underage customers on two occasions in which said customers were, in fact, trading standards agents. He also received an individual fine of £130, and £275 in costs.
County Councillor Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: "These sales are illegal and potentially damaging to young people's health. We won't tolerate anyone selling vaping products to children under the age of 18.”
"This test purchasing crackdown is vital to ensure that local businesses are operating within the law. We're very concerned that a third of the shops visited sold vaping products to under-18s.
"A number of shops that were visited during these operations have previously received warning letters and advice in relation to the law in this area, so we need to carry out further investigations as to why the sales were made and take action to ensure it doesn't happen again."
The action that can be taken against retailers illegally selling disposables or indeed any vaping product include cautions, prosecution, and fines of up to £2,500. Further trading standards operations are due to commence in the coming months, with local government warning retailers that there will be no tolerance offered if guidance and warnings on the matter are ignored.
Disposable Vapes are causing widespread concern
This latest localised example is indicative of an ongoing nationwide battle between trading standards and retailers in an attempt to regulate the disposable vape market. We have already seen Glaswegian wholesalers’ disposable stock stripped as illegally imported examples flooded the market late in 2021. Further to this, Sussex trading standards clamped down on illegal disposables at the beginning of the year (2022), highlighting the national extent of the issues raised.
The risk to vapers whom are 18 or older are steep enough when considering the illegally high-strength 50mg disposable vapes still permeating shelves amongst legal counterparts. When it comes to underage sales however this risk is even greater, especially to hose who may begin vaping without ever having smoked, simply because of social pressures and youthful curiosity.
Continued action against the tide of disposable vapes is at the forefront of localised council responses as the nation works towards a goal of a smoke free generation by 2030. In relation to the events in Lancashire this month, County Councillor Michael Green, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: "Vaping can be very damaging to young people's health.”
"The major issue is young people who do not already smoke taking up vaping. This can lead to them moving on to cigarette smoking, and potentially forming a habit that could be massively damaging to their health. The other concern is the high level of nicotine that can be delivered by vaping devices.
"Most of the products in this test purchasing crackdown cost just £4 - £10, which are pocket money prices for many children.
"The products are very appealing to under 18s due to their price, bright colours, and fruity flavours so it's imperative we do all we can to limit opportunities for young people to buy them.
"Test purchase operations like this are a key part of our plans to protect young people's future health and reduce the burden of smoking on our communities."
The EDGE Perspective
Trading standards across the UK are now calling for citizens to play their part in controlling the potential damage done by encouraging reporting of any illegal disposable stock, or underage vape sales noticed as we go about our daily lives.
As we have previously stated in our earlier reports on disposable vapes, there must be a shared responsibility between retailers, consumers and manufacturers alike to ensure only safe, tested and properly registered products are available to vapers, and measures put in place to prevent underage sale at any cost.
We work closely with our retailers to ensure they have the information and tools they need to correctly sell EDGE Vaping products, and would like to see the same level of commitment to consumer well-being from the brands behind the most popular disposables available currently.
To report illegal stock (anything above 20mg nic strength and/or 2ml e-liquid capacity and/or not carrying the correct warnings/symbols) or underage sale of vaping products, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 or report them online at the Citizens Advice webpage.