Hammersmith & Fulham Council is on track to seize a record number of illegal disposable e-cigarettes this year.
It’s just part of their efforts to crack down on the selling of illegal vapes and illicit tobacco products – a market that’s emerged and grown nationally over the last year.
Since December last year, they’ve seized nearly 6,000 dangerous vapes, containing up to eight times more e-liquid than is allowed, or two-and-a-half times the maximum permitted nicotine. The total selling price of the seized items would have been in the region of £55,000.
“The health and safety of residents is our number one priority,” said Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of H&F.
“These vapes are often marketed towards children and are dangerous. That’s why we’re seizing these dodgy products and will prosecute those who continue to sell them illegally.”
Illegal vapes seized by H&F are either bigger than the legal maximum of two millilitres capacity or have a higher nicotine concentration than the permitted two per cent – both requirements designed as health protection measures.
The biggest vape seized in the borough was 16ml, and some have been as strong as five per cent.
In a recent H&F Trading Standards operation two 18-year-old women were sold a vape containing 10 millilitres of e-liquid from a vape specialist store.
The illegal vape had not been displayed in the shop and was only offered when our mystery shoppers asked if the store stocked any larger sizes. The hidden nature of the sale suggests that the business knew the product was illegal.
H&F Trading Standards officers subsequently seized 362 illegal vapes from the store.
Sellers should check the ID of anyone they believe to be under 25 to ensure that underage sales are avoided, but neither woman was asked for ID on this occasion.
Unusually, the vape specialist seller was not asked what they thought the volunteers’ ages were until after the illegal vapes had been seized, to avoid revealing the test purchase.
In March of this year a 20-year-old mystery shopper named Theo tested retailers across Fulham and was able to buy a ‘blue sour raspberry’ flavoured vape without being asked for ID.
“I went into the shop, asked for a vape, and they didn’t ask for my age or for any proof,” Theo said. “I also asked if they had any bigger [illegal] sizes and was told that they were out of stock but would be able to get some in soon.”
Purchasers must be 18 or over to buy e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the UK. Stores selling age-restricted items are advised to follow the ‘Challenge 25’ rule, which requires them to ask anyone they think is under 25 for ID to prove their age.
The shop assistant told a H&F Trading Standards officer that they had believed Theo to be ‘about 23 or 24’ years old.
The business was strongly advised to send someone to council training for retailers of age-restricted goods to help them avoid making any underage sales.
An underage test purchase will now be carried out at the store. Failing this second test is a criminal offence and will be investigated by H&F and face prosecution.
Dangers of vaping
Vaping was introduced as a way for smokers to cut back on cigarettes, however it does have health risks, especially for non-smokers.
Action on Smoking and Health have reported that vaping is becoming increasingly popular with school pupils.
Many e-cigarettes are marketed towards underage buyers with packaging that appeals to children, including brightly coloured boxes and flavours like ‘skittles’, ‘gummy bear’ and ‘strawberry milkshake’.
In 2022 11–18-year-olds trying tobacco products for the first time most frequently used a disposable vape.
The British Heart Foundation doesn’t advise that non-smokers start vaping as the long-term impact of vaping on your heart and blood vessels is not fully known and vapes still produce harmful emissions.
For help stopping smoking or vaping, visit the NHS’ Better Health webpage.