The UK’s £160m vaping products market is under threat from a growing illicit trade which is in danger of undermining its credibility and future sales potential, retailers and industry experts are warning.

“The industry as a whole has a massive challenge on its hands with regards to illicit stock,” UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) board member Doug Mutter told C-Store. “Illicit vaping products are on the rise and in some parts of the UK it’s becoming rife.”

The warning comes just as the influential Science & Technology Committee of MPs issued a report saying the NHS was “missing an opportunity” to encourage e-cigs as a stop-smoking tool.

Mutter continued: “The problem is across the board from non-EUTPD compliant e-liquids right through to cheap knockoffs of branded hardware.

“We’re even seeing huge trademark infringements such as e-liquids illegally bearing Coca Cola or Toblerone branding.”

Manufacturer BAT agreed that copyright infringement was on the rise, “particularly those liquids that claim to taste like flavours associated with existing brands from sectors such as tobacco or confectionery,” said William Hill, BAT UK and Ireland’s head of legal & external affairs.

“No legitimate manufacturer would produce such products due to the restrictions, and using a tobacco brand on an e-liquid is prohibited,” he added.

Warwickshire Budgens retailer Sid Sidhu said action needed to be taken now before it became too late. “Illicit vaping products is one of those issues that everyone is aware of but no-one is really talking about enough yet,” he said.

“The problem is that the component parts are incredibly cheap to make yet the margins are huge.

“It’s relatively easy to make a low-grade e-liquid and I’ve heard tales of vapers and even retailers making it themselves and printing off their own labels.”

In London, Trading Standards Officers were spending increasing amounts of time attempting to tackle the problem, London Trading Standards Lead Officer for illicit tobacco and alcohol David Hunt told C-Store. “Refillable products are causing us the greatest amount of concern,” he said.

“These products can be broken down into lots of different parts, all of which can be copied and manufactured and bought in bulk very cheaply and they don’t conform with UK safety standards or the new EUTPD regulations,” he added.

“Retailers can play their part by remaining vigilant, sticking to trusted sources of supply and reporting any concerns that they have to us so that we can take action where needed.”

Greater government investment and front line product testing was also needed to help fight the problem, BAT’s Hill added.