A rise in shops selling vaping products to children as young as 12 is causing alarm among Trading Standards officers, a poll suggests.
A survey by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found 60% of local Trading Standards services are most concerned about high street shops selling illicit vapes or vaping products to children.
Trading Standards said it has seen a surge in illicit sales of vaping products by specialist 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.
Trading Standards teams across England and Wales reported a significant rise in underage vape sales last year.
It is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s.
Vapes and e-cigarettes and their refill containers are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and must comply with tank capacity and nicotine strength limits, while their labels must display manufacturer details and health warnings.
However, Trading Standards said many of the devices it had seized flouted these rules. There were also concerns that some may be designed specifically to appeal to children and young people, with packaging and flavours emulating popular confectionery brands such as Skittles.
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, chairman of the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland, said: “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.”
Experts have called for a crackdown on the sale of vapes to children, with a review last year concluding that little was known about the long-term impact of e-cigarettes on health.
The King’s College London study, commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the Department of Health, said it was clear that vaping was less harmful than cigarettes in the short to medium term and smokers should be encouraged to switch to vapes.
However, it called for more research on the risks of vaping for those people who have never smoked or vaped before.
And current research is not robust enough to make clear conclusions about how harmful vaping is in the longer term, according to the study.
Research published in July found the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many being influenced by social media sites such as TikTok.