An “illicit vapes enforcement squad” is set to be launched as part of a crackdown on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.
There have long been concerns that vapes are being targeted at children and the number of teenage vapers is on the rise.
Intended to help adult smokers quit cigarettes for good, they are increasingly being used by under-18s, with NHS data showing one in 10 secondary school pupils are regular vapers.
Maria’s son is among the countless teens picking up the habit, starting when he was just 13 years old.
“I was mortified, I was really upset,” Maria said.
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“He wouldn’t have gone out that summer and think ‘you know what, I’m gonna try smoking’ – I don’t think he would have done that.
“I think it was just so easy to access the vape products.”
Led by Trading Standards, the squads will work across the country and share knowledge across regional networks and local authorities.
The government says its priority is to prevent people from smoking, and supporting them to quit. It has admitted vaping is a preferable alternative for adults.
However, it recognises it has an issue with illegal sales to children and illicit vapes being introduced into the market.
Neil O’Brien, the health minister who will unveil the new plans, said: “The new illicit vapes enforcement squad will work across the country and clamp down on those businesses who sell vapes to children – which is illegal – and get them hooked on nicotine.
“Our call for evidence will also allow us to get a firm understanding of the steps we can take to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes.”
David Lawson, chief executive of Inter Scientific, tests vaping products to ensure they meet UK standards, and said illicit items are easy to come by.
“What we have seen recently in the past year or two with youth use has really been the proliferation of different devices and most of these devices don’t comply with UK regulation.”
He said these devices are often the ones which appeal to children.
“They are too big in size, they are bright in colours, they have flavours that might be more appealing to youth than to adult smokers.”
To stop this, he said “greater checking at the border when the products are getting in” may be the most effective measure.
The government has insisted it will produce guidance to help build regulatory compliance and will have the power to remove illegal products from shops and at our borders.
The minister is also expected to announce the launch of a ‘call for evidence’ to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes, while ensuring they remain available as a quit aid for adult smokers.