Britain’s biggest vaping chain has vowed to keep its shops open amid the coronavirus crisis to stop ex-smokers turning back to cigarettes and is urging the Government not to close vape retailers in a lockdown.
VPZ, which has 155 outlets across the UK, said Britain must follow the lead of countries such as Italy and Spain by ensuring that vaping stores join the list of essential shops allowed to stay open in the event of a total lockdown.
The Edinburgh-based group said ex-smokers could be put at significant risk of complications with Covid-19 if they end up relapsing on cigarettes because they are unable to buy vaping products.
This could put the NHS under unnecessary extra strain, VPZ said.
Scientists and health experts have warned that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of serious illness caused by coronavirus, because smokers already have weakened lung defences and may also have existing lung conditions.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that smokers were around one-and-a-half times more likely to progress to the severe stage of coronavirus than non-smokers.
Doug Mutter, director of manufacturing and compliance at VPZ, said: We know we have a lot of elderly customers and many of them can’t do a big stockpile – we don’t want them to have no option and end up back on cigarettes, because that’s what’s available to them.
“If the vaping industry can play a part in reducing the pressure on the NHS by continuing to operate in some way, shape or form and allow the vaping population to buy their products, we’ll do out utmost to do what we can.”
The company is putting in place extra measures to help protect its 450 staff from the coronavirus, by increasing cleaning within its stores, removing all tester and sampling devices for customers, and introducing a customer limit within stores.
VPZ is also trialling a local delivery service near its head office in Edinburgh for older customers unable to get online, where they can place orders over the phone and store staff will drop them off at their doorstep.
It is hoping to roll this out further across the UK if it proves successful.
Mr Mutter said: “We have seen in Italy, Spain and France that vaping retailers are to remain open, even during the height of the crisis.
“We are working immensely hard behind the scenes to ensure all of our 155 stores will be open, as well as providing additional delivery services for those who are self-isolating or for whatever reason are unable to access our products, and support.”