Cynical packaging and unscrupulous shops blamed for fuelling teenage vaping scandal
How easy is it for children to buy vaping products that should only be sold to adults? Cheap Vapes Online
Put it this way, in one covert purchasing exercise a girl aged just ten and in school uniform was able to buy vapes from a shop.
In another case, a secondary school headteacher was so infuriated by sales to his pupils that he went to the vaping store to demand they pack it in.
And why might children want to vape? The picture above of a disposable vape called Skitles and some sweets with almost the same name might help explain the attraction.
Many shop owners found guilty of underage sales get away with fines that industry experts warn act as little deterrent, though some repeat offenders have been hit with closure orders.
Last month Mansfield Express was shut down by Nottinghamshire Police using powers under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act.
Mansfield Magistrates Court was told of numerous complaints about sales to children, including a 13-year-old girl whose mother called the police after finding a vape receipt issued by the shop.
The court also heard that it sold imported vapes that breach UK regulations.
The brazen owners tried to circumvent the closure order by renaming the store Yad Mini Market but were told by police that the closure applied to the premises, not just the name.
Locals are not sorry to see it shut.
Kyle Spooner, manager of Xtreme Vape in Mansfield, said: "The police sent a 10 year old girl into that shop wearing her school uniform and they still sold her a vape.
"The disposable vapes we sell are properly sanctioned and contain 600 to 800 puffs, the ones they were selling had 3,500 puffs and you don’t know what is in them because they haven’t been tested."
In Derbyshire, Trading Standards last month secured a three month closure order against the Spondon Mini Market, for selling vapes to children as well as selling counterfeit and illegally imported cigarettes.
Scott McGregor, headteacher of nearby West Park School, went to the shop several times to try to persuade it to stop supplying his pupils.
"Unfortunately there was no desire to do the right thing and to change practice," he said.
This is far from an isolated case.
“Vaping appears to be a problem among some pupils, although the scale of the issue is not clear," said Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
“It is immensely frustrating that despite the law being clear that e-cigarettes cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18, school pupils are still managing to get their hands on them."
Another vape store that's been given a three month closure order is Zany Shop in Aberdare, South Wales, which ignored Trading Standards warnings about underage sales.
"The business owner and shop workers showed a total disregard for the local authority, South Wales Police and the wider community," said Louise Davies of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council.
The local Valley Times website posted the news on its Facebook page, prompting some forthright responses from nearby residents.
"About bloody time!!" wrote Rebecca Morris.
"Should be closed permanently not 3 months," posted Diane Price.
Other offending shops have escaped closure, getting away with fines.
In St Austell, Cornwall, Seabreeze Gifts last month pleaded guilty to selling vapes containing nicotine to a 13 and a 14-year-old despite previously being given a written warning by Trading Standards.
Shop owner Nigel Parish was ordered to pay £3,177 in fines and costs at Bodmin Crown Court.
Ruth Goldstein, Cornwall Council council's public health consultant, said: “The regulations on the under-age sale of vapes and vaping products are there to protect children, but unfortunately we know many young people are still able to buy vapes from shops."
Two shops were caught making underage sales by Oxfordshire Trading Standards in a test purchasing exercise, despite having already had the law explained.
Didcot Vaping Store was ordered to pay fines and costs of £2,890, while Jahngeer Hanif, trading as Broad Street Supermarket in Banbury had to pay £1,600 in fines and costs.
Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Head of Trading Standards, said: “Prior to this test purchasing work taking place we visited all the business due to be tested to provide advice on preventing underaged sales. These visits also resulted in us finding thousands of illegal, disposable e-cigarettes, which have been removed from sale."
Last September, Trading Standards officers in North Lanarkshire carried out test purchases at nine shops which had previously been caught making underage sales, and five of them did so again.
The penalties for this repeat offending were fixed penalty notices of either just £200 or £400.
Trading Standards officers last month said that illicit vaping was their biggest high street concern.
Among the culprits being blamed for this scandal are manufacturers who stand accused of deliberately designing packaging to appeal to children.
Trading Standards in Oxfordshire are in the process of prosecuting a shop for allegedly selling a vape product called Skitles to a child, the packaging being almost identical to the sweet brand Skittles, both pictured at the top of this story.
In Walsall, West Midlands, the King’s Vapes and Smoking Shop has been prosecuted for underage sales, shop owner Gurmeet Singh, 36, being ordered to pay £621 in fines and costs, and his company Thakur Enterpreses (sic) Limited being told to pay £1,533 in fines and costs.
Its products shown on Facebook include some designed like a Snickers bar, with the spelling changed to Snackers, and another like a Mars bar, spelled as Mors, and Coca Cola appearing as the vape flavour Cocak Cola.
"These disposable vapes are intentionally appealing to children due to their flavours and bright colours and contain as much nicotine as at least 40 cigarettes," said Walsall councillor Garry Perry after the hearing.
Mars Wrigley, which owns the Mars Bar, Snickers and Skittles brands, condemned the misuse of its product names as "grossly deceptive and irresponsible".
Another case highlighted how shops like these have a wider effect, blighting local communities.
The Quick Stop Mini Market in Taunton was hit with a three month closure order in December for underage vape sales and selling counterfeit cigarettes.
Avon and Somerset Police have described how groups of youths congregated outside the shop, with police receiving reports of intimidating shouting, swearing, scuffling, loud music, littering and drinking.
The store also sold cannabis grinders and bongs, which were used in the street nearby with illegal drugs.
Shops that were legally selling vape products were abused when they barred youths, who often seemed drunk or on drugs.
Other stores reported cases of shoplifting and losing trade as once regular customers avoided the area.
"We couldn’t allow this to continue," said Cerwyn Pritchard, Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator at Avon and Somerset Police.
“We hope the closure order will improve the quality of life of those living and working in the area."
As far as the effect on the health of the children taking up the habit goes, the long-term consequences are unknown.
Underage vaping has been linked to lung damage and gum disease, vomiting and diarrhoea, and damage to the developing brain.
Chronic nicotine use, including through vaping, can lead to mood disorders, attention deficit and depression.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warns: "E-cigarettes remain a relatively new product and their long-term impact still unknown."
It wants the Government to make plain packaging mandatory and to tighten advertising so that vapes are sold as an aid to giving-up smoking, not a fun lifestyle choice.
Dan Marchant of the UK Vaping Industry Association and the UK's largest vaping retailer, Vape Club, is all too aware of the problem.
"There has been a large increase in the number of youths who have either tried vaping or who are doing it," he said.
"Unfortunately when you look at the stats they show the sources where underage kids are able to buy these products, and it's across convenience stores, online, even major supermarkets.
"There's been such an increase compared to the year before, and the year before that, we have to take it seriously.
"These products are not designed for non-smokers and definitely not designed for children, they are a smoking cessation product and they work brilliantly.
"We are lacking enforcement around any age-restricted product, be it vaping, tobacco, alcohol, all these things are widely available out there."
He has a three point plan to tackle underage sales.
First, increase the maximum fine from £2,500 to £10,000.
"All of a sudden that becomes a scary situation for shops, you have to sell an awful lot of products to then still make a profit," he said.
Second, he wants a licence scheme for retailers, with the money raised being used to fund underage test purchases.
Third, he believes the youth market could be outpriced by increasing the capacity of disposable vapes from the current limit of 2ml, which sell for £4 to £5, to 10ml, adding that longer lasting products would also produce less waste.
"You would get the same effect as removing packets of ten cigarettes from the market," Mr Marchant said.
He would also like to see a clamp down on packaging that might appeal to children but is against banning sweet fruity flavours, arguing that they help adults trying to quit smoking.
"Moving away from tobacco and having something more pleasant is really helpful to the adult smoker making the switch."
Like many mothers, Daily Mirror columnist Siobhan McNally is worried about the unavoidable presence of vaping in the street and among her daughter's peer group.
"Brightly-coloured disposable vapes line the shelves behind the counter in sweetie shops and mobile repair stores in my Hampshire town," she says.
"Teenagers love the brightly-coloured brands of disposable vapes like Elf Bars and unscrupulous shops are selling them to the underage kids.
"While I can’t say for certain that my daughter Jesse, who's almost 14, secretly vapes, I know some pupils at her school do, you can see the sweet vapour trails as they walk down the road in screechy teenage clumps.
"When I asked how they were able to buy them, she admitted they had fake ID downloaded on their phones, saying that some shops won’t accept ID on phones, but it’s worth the risk as plenty do.
"When I was Jesse’s age, I was able to buy single cigarettes for 10p in my local shop and it got me hooked on smoking.
"Now cheap, disposable fruit-flavoured vapes at £5 a pop are doing the same thing to a new generation.
"I’d like to see the disposables banned and refillable vapes only sold in licensed premises to adults over 18.
"Still, there is some good news, my daughter says hardly any kids smoke cigarettes these days: 'Only some Year 11 losers who will fail their GCSEs'.”
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