London councils crackdown on illegal vapes

In Britain it is illegal to sell cigarettes or vapes with nicotine to anyone aged under 18(Nick Ansell/PA/file picture) (PA Wire)
In Britain it is illegal to sell cigarettes or vapes with nicotine to anyone aged under 18(Nick Ansell/PA/file picture) (PA Wire)

London councils are cracking down on shops selling colourful vapes to children, some of which can contain illegally high levels of nicotine.

Town halls across the capital have launched undercover operations in a bid to prosecute shops supplying the e-cigarettes to underage customers after a reported rise in use among teenagers.

In Britain it is illegal to sell cigarettes or vapes with nicotine to anyone aged under 18 and businesses can be prosecuted if they are caught.

Barking and Dagenham council said it had launched investigations into three shops after its Trading Standards team sent teenagers aged 13 and 14 into businesses to buy the products on December 30.

Meanwhile Sutton council seized 2,000 illegal vapes, unsafe cuddly toys plus over 60 accessories worth around £27,000 in raids last month.

While busts in Kingston revealed even more counterfeit goods, from illegal vapes to 77 nicotine wraps, 35 kilos of shisha and heaters - all worth an estimated £26,000.

 (Hammersmith & Fulham Council)
(Hammersmith & Fulham Council)

Since April 2022 Hammersmith and Fulham Council has confiscated 12,500 illegal cigarettes, almost 7kg of rolling tobacco and more than 20kg of shisha from local shops.

A spokesman said: "Part of our efforts to keep consumers safe and reduce the selling of illicit tobacco products has also included work to remove unlawful vapes from our streets."

Vaping is considered to be substantially less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, a major review of nicotine products by researchers at King’s College London found.

But more action is needed to tackle the devices being use among children, the research found.

Surveys have indicated a steep rise in underage vaping over the last five years and some companies appearing to promote their products to young people.

According to Action on Smoking and Health, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who say they use e-cigarettes doubled in the past 12 months.

Elf Bar, one of the UK's leading brands of disposable vapes, was accused of flouting rules to promote its products to young people on TikTok in an investigation by the Observer last year.

In a statement at the time, Elf Bar said it was “very aware of the UK regulations” and would conduct “internal investigations” into the allegations.

It said it had a “no paid-for influencers” policy in place and that it adhered to ASA regulations on vape advertising, gaining its approval in advance of running campaigns on buses and billboards.

A spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to addressing the issue of vape products getting into the hands of minors. This includes everything from cracking down on unofficial Elf Bar promotions on social media and rogue retailers. All Elf Bar packaging indicates that our products are not for sale to under-18s.”

In a survey for The Tab more than a quarter of students said they were addicted to Elf Bars.

The number of potentially unsafe disposable vapes being seized at British Channel ports has also risen "dramatically", according to Trading Standards.

More than 300,000 of counterfeit devices were confiscated by Kent Trading Standards last month alone.

Operations Manage James Whiddett said: "We're stopping these devices which may have about 10 times the legal limit of nicotine in them."

Technology company FEELM, which works with a variety of vape manufacturers, said it was developing child locks for some of its clients to use in their products to reduce use by young people.

A company spokesman said: “We firmly believe that vaping has a key role to play in supporting the UK’s ambitions to be “smoke-free” by 2030.

“However, we are clear that minors should not be accessing nicotine products, and we work very closely with our clients to ensure that their distributors and retailers are not targeting children.

“Our own brand website and social media platforms go to great lengths to restrict minors from accessing any information about vaping products. We have developed a child lock solution for disposable vapes, which our clients are looking to deploy in the near future.

“We are concerned about the growth of the illegal vaping market, and the risks that these devices pose to the health and wellbeing of those who use them. We are also concerned that the actions of unscrupulous players who are selling illegal devices. We would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the Government to tackle the problem."

Adam Afriyie MP, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping, added: "We must not allow a small number of bad actors to flog vapes to children, and flout the carefully crafted regulations that limit tank sizes and nicotine levels for safety reasons.

“It is vital that illegal ingredients and cynical marketing to children are stamped out, and I urge the industry to self-police and support trading standards in their work so that all e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers are playing by the rules.”