Underage vaping: are corner shops the culprit?
By Simon Hacker | 4th July 2023
Advertising watchdogs have moved to tighten the activities of vaping companies through social media.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has issued an enforcement notice to compel vaping companies to remove ads and promotional material which they say currently appears on TikTok and which is in clear breach of advertising standards.
But CAP's move against publicity of vapes online for under-age users comes as a Gloucester vaping store shares the extent of illegal sales on Gloucester's streets.
Dan Fisher, who supervises Totally Wicked on Northgate Street, said his business, which is part of a chain of 150 vape shops, regularly reports corner shops in Gloucester. He suggests that the easy availability of unregulated vapes on the streets is at the root of under-age use.
Mr Fisher said: "We see under-age children using vapes which we know are illegal, and the law really needs to be tightened so that legitimate businesses, which always check ID and sell vapes that comply with the law, are protected."
He added that local trading standards are not doing enough to stamp out sales of unregulated vapes.
"We know of certain shops that are doing this and we have regularly reported them to Trading Standards through their channel, but we have not heard anything back from them."
While Mr Fisher and colleagues have not identified illegal vapes with a higher nicotine content than current regulation permits, container sizes, he said, which are limited to 2ml by UK law, are often seen being used by children that have a 10ml capacity.
In August 2022, Trading Standards officers paid visits to 29 shops around Gloucestershire, the operation coming in the wake of increased reports from concerned parents that illegal e-cigarette sales were not being policed.
A spokesman said at the time: "Volunteers aged 15 and 16 visited 29 shops around the county and were able to buy vapes from six of them in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Dursley and Cirencester.
"Trading standards officers will now be revisiting the shops which sold the products to advise them of their responsibilities on age-related products. They will continue working with them to ensure they are fully aware of the law and their legal obligations, before undertaking further unannounced checks in the coming months."
Shops fund in breach of the law could be subject to repeat visits and formal action, "which could include the retailers or owners of the shop being taken to court where they could face a fine of up to £2,500", Trading Standards added.
Punchline was unable to confirm any update to potential prosecution today.
CAP said: "We know people are concerned about young people vaping and, by extension, ads for vaping products appearing on social media where they shouldn't and being likely to appeal to or be targeted at under-18s.
"That's why we're taking action, banning ads that break the rules and ensuring they're quickly removed. And our CEO Guy Parker has spoken about how we're working with platforms, other regulators and enforcement bodies to ensure young people aren't being exposed to vape ads on TikTok and other social media where they simply should not be appearing."
● In the UK, vapes (e-cigarettes) are regulated as consumer products that can be legally sold to anyone over the age of 18. The government encourages adult smokers to switch to vapes as they are believed to be substantially less harmful than smoking. Current law restrict e-liquids to a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml and requires nicotine-containing products or their packaging to be child-resistant and tamper evident.
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