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Study shows four in ten retailers flout laws on nicotine inhaling products

Posted 09/08/16

Almost 40% of retailers illegally sold nicotine e-cigarettes and vaping liquids to children and young people in the first national test purchase operation since the practice was banned.

The findings, published today, follow a rapid review of the Nicotine Inhaling Products (Age of Sale & Proxy Purchasing) Regulations 2015 that came into force last October.

The regulations prohibit sales to under-18s, except under certain circumstances. A total of 634 compliance tests were conducted between January and March 2016.

The tests were carried out by English trading standards services, supported by the Department of Health and managed by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

According to the report “compliance with the age-of-sale aspect of these regulations was found to be disappointingly low, with illegal sales made on 246 occasions”.

This gives an overall non-compliance rate of 39%.

Businesses tested ranged from independent pharmacies, specialist e-cigarette suppliers, discount stores and markets as well as traditional tobacco retailers.

Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said that while the results in today’s report were disappointing it was important to consider them in context.

He said: “More than 2.5 million adults use electronic cigarettes1 and evidence suggests the products are now the most popular quitting aid for smokers in England2.

“And these products are being sold in a wide variety of retailers and many of them will have little or no experience of challenging age restricted sales.

“Regular use among children is relatively rare but children’s awareness of, and experimentation with electronic cigarettes, is increasing3.

“However, trading standards teams play a frontline role in preventing children from obtaining e-cigarettes and nicotine refills, just as they do with traditional tobacco products.

“They provide guidance to help retailers comply with the law, but will not hesitate to take enforcement action where it is appropriate to do so.”

Nicola Blackwood, public health minister, said: "There was strong support for this measure from businesses when they were consulted and so, as the school holidays are upon us, this is a timely reminder of their obligations under these regulations not to sell nicotine products to under 18 year olds.

“We will continue to work with trade associations and trading standards to provide practical advice to businesses of all sizes and to promote compliance amongst the wider retail community.”

A variety of products, from e-liquids and disposable e-cigarettes to rechargeable products, were purchased, with prices ranging from £1 to £20.

The most frequently purchased products were e-liquids. Where an illegal sale was made, further advice and guidance were given to help the business achieve compliance.


Notes to editors
  • To view an infographic of key findings in the report click here.
  • To sign up for future editions of TS Today, the digital magazine of the trading standards profession, which carries the infographic, click here.
  • To view the report itself, including regional figures, click here.
To compare the findings of the latest tobacco control reports: 
  1. Use of electronic cigarettes (vapourisers) among adults in Great Britain http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_891.pdf 
  2. E-cigarettes: a new foundation for evidence-based policy and practice https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/454517/Ecigarettes_a_firm_foundation_for_evidence_based_policy_and_practice.pdf 
  3. Use of electronic cigarettes among children in Great Britain http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_959.pdf 

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