How To Spot An Illegal Disposable Vape

/ 6 min read

How To Spot An Illegal Disposable Vape

With headlines circulating about some of Britain’s most popular disposable vaping brands, many people are becoming more concerned about their safety.

In this blog we will catch you up on the biggest waves made by small, brightly coloured devices so-far, and share the insights that will help you properly judge for yourself if the product you are thinking about trying is legal, or not.


Disposable Vapes in the UK So far

If you have somehow not noticed the very rapid rise to popularity of these small colourful vaping devices, here is a run-down of the highlights of the last two years (having gained traction initially in 2021).

  • To meet sudden demand, Illegal importation and sale of unregulated versions of disposable vapes that do not comply with UK safety standards placed on both nicotine content and e-liquid volume.
  • Massive stock seizures and investigative actions by Trading Standards across the UK in an attempt to protect consumers and educate retailers on compliance.
  • The devices are a single unit made from wholly non-recyclable parts. They are being littered extensively, and those that do make it into bins are heading to landfill. This means enough finite lithium to produce 1200 electric cars is being lost forever each year.
  • A youth access issue is ongoing as under-18s are reportedly getting their hands on the ‘trendy’ vaping devices in a number of places including smaller retailers and markets, however even supermarkets have been identified as a source. It has been stated that one in five fifteen-year-olds are now using disposable vapes.
  • Following mass school confiscations, leading anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has built guidance on how to develop vaping policies in schools and to educate people about the risks, in context vs smoking.
  • Industry and government experts have debated the issue extensively, even admitting Trading Standards doesn’t have the resources to make a significant difference. They have encouraged shoppers to report suspicious sales and stock, as well as encouraging retailers to act responsibly.

Collection of Disposable Vapes

How To Spot an Illegal Disposable Vape

It is at your discretion which vaping product you choose for your journey, however if you opt for a disposable, it is important for you to be able to tell those which are MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approved.

A ‘legal vaping product’ in the UK means it complies with a set of rules called the TRPR – this stands for Tobacco and Related Products Regulation. This is our domestic version of the EU-wide vaping rules brought in in 2017, called the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).

Under the TRPR/TPD vaping products must comply with specific limitations and safety tests including:

  • No device can contain more than 2ml of a nicotine containing e-liquid
  • No e-liquid can exceed 20mg/ml (also written as 2%)
  • Bottled e-liquids containing nicotine may not be bigger than 10ml
  • Potentially harmful ingredients such as Diacetyl (often related to popcorn lung in the media) cannot be included in vape flavourings
  • Every product registered for sale must pass emissions tests to ensure they do no produce carcinogenic compounds called carbonyls above specific safe limits when heated

In the case of disposable vapes, there are some classic signs to look out for that will give you a strong idea if the product is illegal:

  • They often give their strength as a percentage, some have been reported as being 5% - this can appear low to the untrained eye, but is the equivalent of 50mg/ml, more than double the legal UK limit.
  • While registered disposables offer no more than 600 puffs, some however say they can deliver circa 3000 puffs – this is impossible to achieve without containing far more than the legal 2ml liquid capacity limit.
  • These high-puff disposable vapes tend to stand out from the crowd, being far larger than the 600 puff variants; if it’s massive and more expensive, it’s very likely non-compliant.
  • If you ask a retailer for a disposable vape, and they produce stock that is not openly displayed, refer to the above points to verify it’s validity – some retailers have reportedly been keeping illegal disposables under the counter or in back rooms, only producing them upon request.

If in doubt still, the MHRA keeps a public list of all legally registered vaping products here:

Search for the product you have in mind – if it’s legal it’ll be there.

Gavel banging on top of a disposable vape

What’s The Danger of Illegal Disposable Vapes?

More nicotine and more puffs for your money might not sound too bad if you’ve got cravings to satisfy on a budget, however there is a major problem that it is easy to overlook without an understanding of how the vaping industry regulates its products.

Essentially, the breaches to TRPR/TPD regulations mean that these products cannot have undergone MHRA registration. This means they have not been through emissions tests, nor have they been held to any known quality standard during their manufacture.

To us as vapers, this means we wouldn’t know what we were inhaling, nor would we have anywhere to turn should the worst happen, and we experience a health issue as a result of using a non-compliant product.

Trading Standards, The MHRA, and other authorities are currently working to remove illegal examples from the market, however the work is ongoing and the problem widespread, so in the meantime we must be careful what we buy.

Take special care out there and check the device out carefully before buying – illegal disposables at a glance often look incredibly similar, if not identical, to their legal cousins. Take note of the points above, and have a closer look, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t take the risk.

There are alternatives you can trust

While disposable vapes represent the height of convenience, if the issues surrounding them are off-putting for you, this doesn’t have to be the end of your vaping journey.

Pod Devices like the EDGE GO can offer similar convenience in their size and performance, with the exception of having to occasionally replace the e-liquid pod itself when empty – the battery you can keep on using indefinitely which is a win for the environment!

The benefit of these kinds of products is that they have been established in the UK for many years now, and are almost exclusively offered by long-standing brands who comply with legal safety measures. Unlike disposables, many are UK-based, and so you will have a local point of contact to direct any queries should you have them.

With an EDGE Subscription too you can even beat-out the convenience of a disposable vape and get your pods delivered to your door at a time of your choosing, so you never have to worry about forgetting or needing to visit a store to top-up.

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