Nearly nine out of 10 of Britain’s vape shops are violating an industry code of conduct by agreeing to sell e-cigarettes to non-smokers, an undercover investigation has revealed.
Some 1,700 specialist shops in England, Scotland and Wales are advised to “never knowingly sell to anyone who is not a current or former smoker, or a current vaper”.
The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) guidelines aim to stop non-smokers from becoming addicted to nicotine.
Nevertheless, staff at 87 per cent of shops are either knowingly or unwittingly prepared to sell e-cigarettes to people who have never smoked or vaped before, according to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH).
The organisation visited 100 vape shops in February and found almost half – 45 per cent – did not check whether customers smoked or used to smoke.
And even in cases where the staff did check, customers were encouraged to start vaping even if they knew they were a non-smoker.
E-cigarettes work by heating a solution usually containing nicotine, a synthetic liquid called propylene glycol and flavouring, which is vaporised and inhaled by the smoker.
They do not produce tar or carbon monoxide and are believed to be about 95 per cent safer than smoking, according to the latest Public Health England review.
Footage from the RSPH investigation showed one retailer recommending a customer, who told him she did not smoke, choose a vaping liquid with six milligrams of nicotine content rather than no milligrams.
He told her: “The nicotine does affect how much of like a hit you get at the back of your throat, so if you want a bit of that, I’d say go for a six.”
But other footage showed a retailer telling a non-smoking customer he would not “want to get you hooked to something” and advising him against buying the product.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said e-cigarettes must be seen as “evidence-based quitting aids – rather than lifestyle products” and should be aimed only at smokers.
She said: “We applaud the IBVTA code of conduct, which is in line with this principle.
“However, as our investigation shows, the majority of vape shops in the UK are not adhering to these important standards. We are keen to support the sector to strengthen their codes of best practice, and for individual retailers to sign up and ultimately adhere to them.”
The body, which has released a paper on steps to target e-cigarettes specifically to smokers, suggested there could also be business rates relief for smaller shops to stop selling tobacco products, and called for an end to the advertising of such items in trade publications.