Portsmouth City Council investigators are ramping up action on vapes after catching local shopkeepers illegally selling them to children.

Council trading standards investigators sent a 15-year-old into shops to see if they could buy disposable vapes, and two retailers were witnessed selling the products. But kids as young as 12 could be buying the adults-only devices in the city, officers believe.

Meanwhile, about 6,500 illegal disposable vapes, worth around £83,000 in total, have been seized in trading standards operations backed by police. Eight shops around the city have now been raided.

Trading standards are concerned that such vapes are being marketed to children, using fruity flavours and colourful packaging.

Vapes seized from local stores are illegal because they break regulations on labelling and ingredients. By law, a vape can only hold 2ml of liquid – good for 600 puffs. But some of the products seized have enough liquid for about 9,000 puffs and can deliver a huge dose of nicotine.

The seized vapes are now being tested, and legal action being prepared against offending shopkeepers. For selling illegal vapes, shop owners can face unlimited fines or up to two years in jail. Under-age sales can result in fines of up to £2,500. Both types of offence can result in an order to close down a shop.

A BBC report last May said vapes confiscated from school pupils in the Midlands contained high levels of lead, nickel and chromium. Results of lab tests reportedly showed children could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead and nine times the safe amount of nickel. Some vapes also contained harmful chemicals like those in cigarette smoke.

The charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has reported that in March/April 2023 the proportion of children experimenting with vaping had grown by 50% year on year, from one in 13 to one in nine.

The council’s Cabinet Member for Safety in the Community, Cllr Ian Holder, said: “This work by our trading standards team shows a deeply concerning situation. Our focus is now more and more on illegal vapes, which are displayed openly on store shelves, rather than hidden like illicit tobacco products.

“There’s clearly a growing threat to the health and wellbeing of our children. And unregulated sales of such products fuel an illicit market that may be linked to other criminal activities.”

Helen Atkinson, director of public health at the council, said: “Vaping is primarily an aid to stopping smoking – and is currently one of the most effective.

“E-cigarettes are safer than tobacco. However, it’s not advisable for non-smokers or young people to vape as it is not completely harmless. The marketing of vapes with designs and flavours that could appeal to children is therefore very concerning.

“It is especially concerning that there is a rise of illegal vapes being sold which may not have been through appropriate testing and safety measures.”

The council’s wellbeing service provides free support to help Portsmouth residents to stop smoking.

The council is receiving more and more tip-offs about suspected illegal vape sales. Residents can contact trading.standards@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

As well as prompting health concerns, vapes can be damaging to the environment if not disposed of properly. When single-use or rechargeable vapes are binned or incorrectly disposed of, their batteries can get crushed or damaged in bin lorries and recycling centres and start fires.

 

HOW TO DISPOSE OF VAPES

Never bin them. Recycle them separately from your household waste and recycling.

Rechargeable vapes: Recycle the battery separately if it’s removable and safe to do so. If you have a doorstep collection, place the batteries in a clear bag on top of your rubbish wheelie bin or bags. If you have a communal collection, take them to a collection point like a supermarket. To recycle the rest of the vape (or the whole vape if you can’t remove the battery safely), place it in a carrier bag on top of your recycling bin or box (not inside). The recycling crew will put the batteries in a separate cage on the lorry. If you have a communal collection, take them to a local recycling point like the tip.

Single-use vapes: Place the whole thing in a carrier bag on top of your recycling bin or box (not inside). The recycling crew will put them in a separate cage on the lorry to get it recycled.

Free take-back schemes: If you are buying a new vape, check whether your local store will take-back your old one for free.

Household waste recycling centre (tip): This can now accept reusable, refillable and disposable vapes.

See more information on recycling electricals.