Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
12:00 AM 3rd July 2024

The Rise Of Illegal Vape Shops In The UK

Image by Mayukh Karmakar from Pixabay
Image by Mayukh Karmakar from Pixabay
The rise of illegal vape shops in the UK has become a significant concern in recent years, driven by a surge in youth vaping and the proliferation of unregulated products.

A new study by Go Smoke Free has examined several factors contributing to the rise of illegal vape shops in the UK and commented on the situation, offering advice on how to prevent this worrying trend.

Increase in Youth Vaping
Youth vaping has skyrocketed in the UK over recent years, with around 20% of children aged 11-17 trying vaping in 2023, up from 15.8% in 2022. This rise is often attributed to the availability of flavoured disposable vapes and the perception amongst youths that because vaping is widely considered a healthier alternative to smoking, it validates their use.

Increase of Illegal Vape Shops and Non-Compliant Products
The number of vape shops, including those selling illegal products, has grown sharply. In 2023 alone, over 230 new independent vape shops opened across the UK. Many of these shops have been found selling products to underage consumers without proper age verification, exploiting the lack of stringent enforcement in some areas. The real danger here lies in the products they are supplying, with many of the vapes being unlicensed and unregulated imitations that are often produced cheaply and do not adhere to UK health regulations.

Illegal vapes often fail to meet the UK's stringent safety regulations. Investigations have revealed high levels of harmful substances in these devices, such as lead, nickel, and chromium. These products are typically sold at lower prices, making them more accessible to young people and more profitable for unscrupulous sellers.

Links to Criminal Activity
There is increasing evidence in the UK linking illegal vaping to broader criminal activities, including child exploitation and the involvement of organized crime. Recent reports suggest worrying evidence that the illicit selling of counterfeit vaping devices is sometimes used by gangs to groom and exploit children, offering them as part of coercion tactics.

Government and Regulatory Response
In response to issues surrounding illegal vape sellers, the UK government has intensified its crackdown on illegal vaping. This includes the establishment of an 'illicit vapes enforcement squad', funded to tackle underage sales and the distribution of non-compliant products. Proposals for stricter regulations on the sale and marketing of vaping products are also under consideration, including bans on flavoured vapes and tighter controls on packaging and advertising aimed at children.

The government's commitment to creating a 'smoke-free generation' involves not only tackling traditional smoking but also addressing new challenges posed by vaping. The aim is to continue supporting adults who use vapes as a means to quit smoking while simultaneously protecting young people from starting a potentially harmful habit.

A spokesperson for Go Smoke Free commented on the study:
"To combat illegal vape shops, the UK must adopt a comprehensive strategy. This involves increasing funding for local trading standards, intensifying enforcement at key locations, tightening advertising and packaging regulations to reduce youth appeal, and enhancing cooperation between law enforcement and health authorities.

"A balanced regulatory framework is essential to support adult smokers who are looking to quit while protecting young people from harmful, unregulated products."

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