Well over a third of retailers are selling electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) to under-18s, a new report by the Trading Standards Institute has found.

A test purchasing operation carried out on behalf of Public Health England (PHE) revealed that of 574 visits made by under-18s, successful purchases were made on 227 occasions (40%).

Under-18s were able to purchase e-cigs at 33% of small stores they visited, at 74% of independent pharmacies and 28% of off licences.

Market stalls had the highest rate of sale at 80%.

Most e-cig products carry a voluntary warning that they are not for sale to under-18s, however there is currently no legal age restriction.

This situation is likely to change with new powers provided for in the Children and Families Act 2014 with regulations subject to future consultation.

PHE national director of health and wellbeing Professor Kevin Fenton said: “Despite age of sale warnings, many retailers are selling e-cig products to young people. This is unacceptable.

“The government and regulatory authorities need to work closely with retailers in advance of any regulations to ensure that retailers are aware of their legal responsibilities.”