Vapes sold on Amazon as “nicotine-free” have been found by a Guardian investigation to contain the highly addictive substance.
The Guardian tested seven products from the online marketplace that stated on the sellers’ pages that they contained no nicotine, and six were found to contain the stimulant. It is illegal in the UK to sell vapes containing nicotine as “nicotine-free”.
A consumer raised concerns that vapes advertised as “zero nicotine” actually contained the substance with Amazon via their customer service chat in July and again in August, but Amazon told the person to contact the seller directly.
Not only did six of the vapes contain nicotine, but some had an e-liquid tank over the legal limit of 2ml.
Amazon has now removed the products pending an investigation and said it would take enforcement action against any third-party sellers who violated their policies.
The Guardian was alerted to the issue by the consumer, who wants to remain anonymous. He said he had been using a pack of two disposable vape pens which claimed to be nicotine-free.
“I have been trying to give up vaping so I bought no-nicotine ones,” he said. “I have bought them about 20 times and spent hundreds of pounds on them.
“When I first got them I trusted they did not contain nicotine, so thought I was getting off [the substance]. But when I stopped using the vapes I got withdrawals. I looked at the reviews and loads of people were saying this product actually has nicotine in it. They were saying it is a fraud,” he said.
The customer contacted Amazon customer services, who said “as per the description we believe it [the product] contains no nicotine”. He replied asking: “So no tests were done on the product? Even though myself and other people in the reviews have said it probably contained nicotine.” Amazon then advised the customer to contact the seller.
The Guardian tested seven products which reviewers claimed were being misdescribed, and only one came back as being free of addictive chemicals.
Regulations specify that vape tanks have to have a capacity of no more than 2ml and a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml. Any vapes with contents exceeding these amounts are illegal and should not be sold to the public, regulators say.
One vape was marketed as being zero-nicotine but actually had 12.27mg/ml of nicotine and a fill volume of 6ml. Another vape had 13.58mg/ml of nicotine and a similarly large fill volume.
An announcement is expected soon on whether the government will ban disposable vapes, after growing calls for action from leading paediatricians and councils.
Doctors are concerned about the health risks as a growing number of young people are using single-use vapes. Local authorities have raised the alarm about environmental issues caused when the products, which contain lithium batteries, end up in landfill.
In June, the Guardian revealed that millions of illegal and potentially harmful vapes had been seized in the past three years, with trading standards saying this was the “tip of the iceberg”.
Julian Beach, the interim executive director for healthcare quality and access at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said: “To be legally sold in the UK, companies must provide information about their nicotine-containing e-cigarette product to us that shows it complies with certain UK regulations. This helps ensure that e-cigarettes on the UK market meet safety and quality requirements.
“If you have purchased a product that is not published on our website, you should return it to the retailer or your local trading standards service. If you experience an adverse effect from use of a nicotine-containing e-cigarette product, please report it to us via our Yellow Card scheme.”
An Amazon spokesperson said: “We have removed these third-party products pending further investigation. Third-party sellers are independent businesses and must follow all applicable laws, regulations and Amazon policies when listings items for sale in our store. We have proactive measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed, we continuously monitor our store and take action against those who violate our policies.”