Crackdown on illegal vapes after LBC exposed scandal of nicotine filled e-cigs sold with no age checks

30 May 2023, 05:21 | Updated: 30 May 2023, 05:22

Rishi Sunak has pledged to crack down on illegal vape marketing, following an LBC investigation
Rishi Sunak has pledged to crack down on illegal vape marketing, following an LBC investigation. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has vowed to crack down on vape marketing to prevent the 'completely unacceptable' targeting of children, just a week after an LBC investigation found that vapes falsely advertised as nicotine-free were being sold without age checks.

The Prime Minister pledged to close a loophole that allows retailers to give children in England free samples, with concern growing over the number of children taking up the habit.

A review into outlawing retailers from selling “nicotine-free” vapes to under-18s will also be launched, which the government says will ensure UK rules keep up with the way that vaping products are being used.

It comes after LBC reported last week that retailers were falsely advertising illegal vapes as nicotine-free to get away with selling them online, and in some cases without age checks.

LBC's reporter Fraser Knight bought two vapes, listed on Amazon, which raised suspicion, as customer reviews were used to quietly tell buyers they did in fact have nicotine in them.

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LBC's Fraser Knight tested out vapes sold online
LBC's Fraser Knight tested out vapes sold online. Picture: LBC

They were delivered within days and delivered without any age verification checks. The item description for a Blue Razz Ice Lost Mary BM3500 stated clearly that it was a ‘no nicotine vape’.

But a lab test confirmed it contained the same amount of the highly addictive drug as around 280 cigarettes.

The size of the device makes it illegal for sale in the UK.

Read more: Vapes falsely advertised as nicotine-free sold online without age checks, LBC investigation finds

Read more: Hospital admissions for vaping kids quadruple in a year, as calls grow for more regulation

Announcing the new crackdown on Tuesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I am deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of school children.

“Our new illicit vape enforcement squad – backed by £3 million – is on the case, but clearly there is more to do. That is why I am taking further action today to clamp down on rogue firms who unlawfully target our children with these products.

The government has pledged a crackdown on vape marketing to children
The government has pledged a crackdown on vape marketing to children. Picture: Getty

“The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good.

"Whilst vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping.

"There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.

“Closing the loophole that allows companies to give out free samples of vaping products to under 18s is a very welcome step in tackling some of the harms caused by the vaping industry.

Vapes have only appeared in the UK market over the past ten years or so
Vapes have only appeared in the UK market over the past ten years or so. Picture: Alamy

“We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, whilst preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children."

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: "The shameful marketing of vaping products to children is leading to growing numbers trying e-cigarettes.

"Today we are therefore ramping up our efforts to stop kids getting hooked on vaping, including taking steps to crack down on companies handing out free vape samples to under 18s and adding lessons on the health risks of vaping within the curriculum for the first time.

"We will also review the rules on issuing on the spot fines to shops that break the law by selling vapes to underage children, and look into banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to under 18s – which we know can be a gateway to using nicotine products.

"Alongside this our new specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ will also clamp down on online shops selling illicit vapes to under 18s.

The government said marketing vapes to children was 'shameful'
The government said marketing vapes to children was 'shameful'. Picture: Getty

"This builds on action announced last month to protect our children’s health and tackle underage vaping, whilst exploiting the potential of vaping to help adult smokers quit."

The LBC investigation also found that another vape, the Fizzy Cherry ENE Legend, with 3500 puffs, was also found to be illegal, with nicotine in it.

Jane Wragg, managing director at ADACT Medical in Doncaster, told LBC that the results, when compared to how the devices were advertised, throws up a major issue.

She said: "These products said they were nicotine-free but we’ve found they actually have nicotine in them. It’s grossly inaccurate and causes huge problems.

"I think it’s really important that online retailers understand what they’re doing when they’re listing these products, they really should be getting all the information needed to make sure they’re selling legal and good quality, safe products for the good of their consumers."

Amazon has a policy of not allowing nicotine products to be sold on its site and said an investigation would be carried out, following LBC’s findings.

Vaping Industry Association director calls on govt to increase fines for shops who sell minors vapes

A spokesperson said: "We have removed these two third party products pending further investigation. Third party sellers are independent businesses and must follow all applicable laws, regulations and Amazon policies when listing items for sale in our store.

"We have proactive measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed, we continuously monitor our store and take action against those who violate our policies."

Dan Marchant, co-owner of Vape Club, another online retailer, said he thought sites like Amazon struggle to keep an eye on what’s being sold by third party sellers.

He said: "I’ve always suggested that Amazon should probably take the same approach that they take with bladed items and knives, so they only allow them to be sold as ‘fulfilled by Amazon’, which means they’re stored in their own warehouse.

"And it means they’re also in charge of delivery so can ask for age verification."

Teacher begs for help in fight against vaping

It was revealed earlier in May that there had been a 50% rise in the proportion of children who had tried vaping over the past year.

Experimental vaping among 11 to 17 year-olds increased from 7.7% last year to 11.6% this year, according to a survey done for the Action on Smoking and Health campaign group.

Meanwhile the Netherlands announced this month that it would ban all online sales of vapes from July, whether they contain nicotine or not.

A spokesperson for Lost Mary said: "Lost Mary tightly manages its distribution channels for different regions. We do not sell the Lost Mary BM3500 in the U.K. market and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards illegal regional circulation."

The manufacturer of the Fizzy Cherry ENE Legend was also contacted for comment.

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