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When a convenience store opens, the first and most important responsibility of that retailer is to ensure that all of the products they sell are legal, and that they’re only sold to customers who are of legal age to purchase them. This applies to a wide range of products in stores, including tobacco, alcohol, vapes (more on that shortly), bladed articles such as knives, lottery products and more. We believe that as a whole, the convenience sector has a very strong record on responsible retailing, due in no small part to the successful implementation of Challenge25 as an age checking procedure not just for alcohol, but for all age restricted products. However, recently members have raised significant concerns about one category in particular that is being sold irresponsibly at scale.

James Lowman

One of the fastest growing categories in the convenience sector is the e-cigarette or vaping market. With great margins, lots of customer interest and a huge range of product SKUs on offer, vapes are now on the shelves of the majority of stores after being a pretty niche product just a few years ago. The regulations surrounding these products are also relatively recent, with age restrictions on the sale of vaping products to those under the age of 18, as well as proxy sales, coming into force in October 2015. To help retailers with this category, we have a dedicated Assured Advice guide, highlighting the importance of a robust age restricted sales policy such as Challenge 25, as well as detailed guidance on the types of product that are (and aren’t) legal to sell. 

We have heard from members and trading standards officers that illegal vaping products are being sold frequently and brazenly by retailers, with some even advertising the products with point of sale materials around the till. The most common illegal product being sold is one that is essentially larger than it is allowed to be. The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations introduced in 2016 put a maximum capacity of 2ml on an e-cigarette tank, and a maximum of 10ml of e-liquid for refill containers. The 2ml limit equates to around 600 ‘puffs’, which tends to be the measure for which most consumers judge these products by. Vapes that claim to provide significantly more usage than that are not legal to sell in the UK, but you don’t have to go far to see products advertising 3,000 puffs in one disposable device. Trading Standards are out visiting stores, seizing these products, but they need more resources to be able to do so effectively given the scale of the problem. If you see illegal products being sold near you, report it immediately to Trading Standards. And if customers request these products, let them know that they’re not legal for you to sell.

Promoting responsible retailing is at the heart of what we do at ACS, through our partnership with Surrey and Buckinghamshire Trading Standards to provide Assured Advice on age restricted products, our work with CAP (Community Alcohol Partnerships) to reduce local alcohol harm, with the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) to accredit forms of ID, and our engagement with Government on regulations affecting all age restricted categories. We have a wide range of resources available on our website to support you and your colleagues in implementing and communicating a robust age restricted sales policy, and will maintaining our focus on supporting responsible retailers at our events and conferences throughout the next year.