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A leading vape supplier has warned that a ban on disposable products could lead to more illicit sales in the UK.

Speaking to Convenience Store, Eve Peters, director of government affairs for Elf Bar in the UK, highlighted the importance of proper regulation to curb the illicit vape trade, and how a ban on disposable vapes may fuel it further.

“While the impending ban on single-use vapes is expected to create major shifts in the industry, many perceive a significant risk associated with these changes, particularly in the potential surge of illicit vape products,” she said. “Recent data revealed to the BBC shows a significant increase in the circulation of illegal vapes across the UK, with Trading Standards seizing 4.5 million vapes in the past 12 months alone – four more times than in 2022.

“As such, in pursuit of a safe and compliant vaping landscape, it is imperative to implement robust measures within current regulations to effectively and proportionately enforce against non-compliant vaping products.

“At the same time, it is crucial to acknowledge that with the introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill alongside the upcoming single-use vape ban and the recently announced Vaping Products Tax, striking the right balance is essential. One concern is that illicit manufacturers already flout the rules, so bringing an excess of proposed restrictions will do little to address illegal trade and will cause this market to flood with the once-legal products no longer legally permitted for sale.”

Peters outlined the real impact of illicit vape products and called on the government to provide resources to tackle the rise in non-compliant products in the UK.

“Illicit vapes are unregulated and, therefore, do not adhere to safety checks mandated by UK law, potentially exposing users to harmful unauthorised substances or at levels far exceeding permissible limits,” she said.

“In macro terms, illicit vapes also impact the economy. Their sale often circumvents VAT, resulting in significant revenue losses for the government and local authorities, affecting public funding and spending. The illegal vape industry is also funding criminal activity that has wider ramifications on communities and essential public health services. For this reason, the government needs to allocate resources appropriately to combat this issue, even upstream of the trading route, to stop these illicit products from coming to our shores.”

Peters also explained what Elf Bar has done to combat the illicit trade. “These proactive measures include cracking down on illegal vapes via anti-counterfeiting measures, strategic partnerships and awareness campaigns, and calling for enhanced enforcement and licensing.

“Taking a firm stance against counterfeiting, we have helped law enforcement shut down 200 companies in China involved in counterfeiting vaping products from 2022, and this number is growing. We are also forging cross-border collaborations with regulators in some Southeast Asian markets where the manufacturing of counterfeits has become increasingly commonplace since the anti-counterfeiting drive in China phased them out.”

She went on to detail how it is working with the UK retail sector on the issue. “In alignment with our dedication to combating counterfeit goods, we participate in efforts focussed on raising awareness of illegal vapes with strategic partnerships, including collaboration with FACT, a leader in intellectual property protection. Through FACT’s corporate partnership with Crimestoppers, we supported campaigns via the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) to encourage retailers to report illegal vapes.

“Alongside our belief in the deterrent power of penalties, we emphasise the necessity of increased penalties for selling illicit products and support the concept of a licensing scheme to ensure a structured system for verifying licensed retailers.”

Peters urged retailers to get involved in the fight against the illicit trade. “We encourage retailers to play their part by raising awareness of the dangers posed by the illicit market to their customers. Given the potential growth of the illegal trade following the proposed industry changes, we actively encourage retailers to report this information through Crimestoppers at 0800 555 111 or to their local Trading Standards team.”

How to spot an illicit vape

Elf Bar offers up advice on identifying an illicit vape product.

First step is to check for the standard and mandatory certification markings (CE or UKCA). Then, look for the wheelie bin symbol with a line through it, indicating compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive 2012/19/EU.

Additionally, the product packaging must feature a mandatory warning that nicotine is a highly addictive substance, covering 30% of the front and back of the packaging. And prominently display the manufacturer or importer’s name and contact details.

Packaging must also include an age restriction label, indicating that the product is unsuitable for children and not to be sold to individuals below the legal vaping age.

In combination with the absence of legal requirements, the presence of packaging with cartoon-like graphics or flavour names resembling well-known food, beverage, entertainment brands, or products resembling toys or novelty items would indicate illegality.