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

22 May 2023, 06:05 | Updated: 22 May 2023, 08:56

LBC has investigated vapes being sold online
LBC has investigated vapes being sold online. Picture: LBC

By Fraser Knight

LBC has found evidence of retailers falsely advertising illegal vapes as nicotine-free to get away with selling them online, and in some cases without age checks.

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We bought two vapes, listed on Amazon, which raised suspicion with customer reviews being used to quietly tell buyers they do in fact have nicotine in them.

They were delivered within days and were left at the flat door 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.

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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.”

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

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.

A spokesperson told us: “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, told us he thinks 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.”

Last week, it was revealed that there has been a 50% rise in the proportion of children who’ve 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.

Earlier this year, the public health minister made clear that protecting young people from vapes would be an important element of his announcement to use vapes to help move the UK towards being smoke-free by 2030.

Vapes were tested for nicotine content
Vapes were tested for nicotine content. Picture: LBC

Responding to LBC’s investigation, the Department for Health and Social Care said: “It’s already illegal to sell vapes to children and we are exploring further ways to tackle youth vaping through our newly launched Call for Evidence, which will look at the appearance and characteristics of vapes, the marketing and promotion of vapes, and the role of social media.

“We also recently announced a new ‘illicit vales enforcement squad’ - backed by £3 million - to remove illegal products from shelves and stop them from crossing our borders.”

But after demonstrating how easy it is to buy devices which avoid ID checks and regulations online, there are claims the work done by the enforcement ‘flying squad’ will continue to be undermined.

John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said: “Only a small majority of young people are actually getting vapes from brick and mortar retailers, they’re finding loopholes in online retailers and home delivery systems.

“There has to be robust laws in place, a minimum requirement for age verification processes but the other part is that there has to be big fines.

Vapes are sometimes being sold without certain checks
Vapes are sometimes being sold without certain checks. Picture: LBC

The Netherlands this month announced it will ban all online sales of vapes from July, whether they contain nicotine, or not.

The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority sent a letter to retailers saying: “The prohibition of the distance sale of tobacco products and related products (electronic cigarettes and refill containers for electronic cigarettes (with and without nicotine), heating devices and herbal products for smoking) will take effect as of July 1st.”

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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.”

We’ve also contacted Elux, the manufacturer behind the ENE Legend, for comment.