Research carried out by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has revealed that illicit vapes are causing the most concern for Trading Standards professionals.

The CTSI asked its members to list the areas of high street enforcement work that are causing their local Trading Standards service the most concern and more than 60% said that they are most worried about shops selling illicit vapes, or selling vaping products to children.

According to the CTSI, there has been a surge in illicit sales of vaping products by specialist vape shops, convenience stores and corner shops over the past year, with more than 1.4 tonnes of illegal vapes seized in the last six months of 2022 in the North East of England alone.

It is calling on vape retailers to act responsibly and ensure they comply with the law when selling vaping products.

Trading Standards teams have reported that many products seized flout current legislation and there are concerns that some may be designed specifically to appeal to children and young people, with packaging and flavours emulating popular confectionery brands.

CTSI chief executive John Herriman said: “While we recognise that vaping can be a useful quitting aid for smokers, we are worried about increasing breaches of the law, with many non-compliant devices being sold on the UK’s high streets. There is also an increasing problem with vaping products being sold to children in many general retail premises such as mobile phone shops, gift shops and convenience stores.

“Trading Standards teams are doing vital work by cracking down on the unscrupulous retailers who are selling these products to young people without the legally required age verification checks. It is important that vaping products comply with rules that were established to safeguard public health, and that they do not end up in the hands of children.”

David MacKenzie, chair of the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS), added: “Single-use vapes in particular are very cheap, they have bright colours, and they are attractive to children. With a lot of our age-restricted product work on tobacco and cigarettes, fireworks and traditional vapes, we’re looking at sales to 16- and 17-year-olds. But we were getting good information that these are being sold to much younger children, or certainly finding their way into the hands of 12- and 13-year-olds.”

Research conducted in 2022 by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) of enforcement officers in Trading Standards across the UK has shown that 61% don’t believe they have the resources to tackle the illicit tobacco market.

 ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The vaping category has grown significantly in recent years and sadly this also means that there has been a huge increase in the number of illicit vaping products that have been on sale in the UK.

“The government needs to act now to provide Trading Standards with the resources needed to tackle the illicit vape market which is damaging to legitimate retailers and poses a real risk to the health of the individuals purchasing these products.”

What vapes are legal to sell?

Vapes and e-cigarettes are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which requires that they have tanks to a capacity of no more than 2ml; a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml; and their labels display manufacturer details and health warnings. Refill containers are restricted to a maximum capacity of 10ml, certain ingredients including colourings, caffeine and taurine are banned, and nicotine-containing products or their packaging must be child-resistant and tamper-evident.