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Test purchasing proposed to help tackle the rise in underage vaping

According to new research for the annual YouGov youth survey for ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) the percentage of children aged 11-17 vaping in the UK has risen from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

The survey also found that the proportion of children who admit ever having tried vaping has also risen from 14% in 2020 to 16% in 2022.

The research also showed that 10% of 11-15 year-olds have tried vaping, compared to 29% of 16 and 17 year, and that while underage vaping has risen, underage smoking is lower than it was in 2020 (14% in 2022 compared to 16% in 2020).

From October 2015 a minimum age of sale for e-cigarettes of 18 was introduced in England and Wales, making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes containing nicotine to under 18s or to purchase them on behalf of under 18s. Scotland implemented their own age of sale and proxy purchasing regulations in April 2017 and Northern Ireland in February 2022.

Despite it being illegal to sell vapes to under 18s, the most common source of supply for underage vapers is shops (47%). The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the MHRA (the regulator of e-cigarettes) and trading standards have been monitoring the situation and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) was commissioned to carry out a rapid review of compliance earlier this year.

A total of 442 test purchases using young people under the age of 18 years to attempt to purchase disposable e-cigarettes were conducted in shops during February and March 2022. Illegal sales were made on 145 occasions, a non-compliance rate of 33%.

The maximum penalty for selling a nicotine inhaling product to a person under 18 years is a fine of £2,500. If convicted and further offences occur in a two-year period, Trading Standards can make an application to a Magistrates’ Court for a restricted premises order and/or a restricted sales order.

Following the report, the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) is calling for a range of tough measures to crack down on retailers who sell vapes to children and young people, including a national test purchasing scheme similar to the one UKVIA runs for its members to ensure all operations are performing to high standards when it comes to preventing youth access to e-cigarettes.

Test purchasing helps organisations to independently check and improve compliance for store, venue and home delivery services of age-restricted goods. Centrebound’s auditors that carry out test purchases and age verification checks have their age validated by either passport, birth certificate or PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme. They carry out the checks for doorstep delivery companies, in-store retailers and hospitality providers throughout the UK and Ireland. Coupled with enterprise class survey software that can capture images and validate details such as order numbers, Centrebound provide unparalleled service in the test purchasing and compliance monitoring industry.

Other measures proposed by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) include the introduction of a licensing or approved retailer and distributor scheme, increased penalties of at least £10,000 per instance on traders flouting UK law, ensuring trading standards is effectively resourced and legislation around the packaging of e-cigarettes to prevent branding that inadvertently appeals to non-smokers or under-18s. According to the UKVIA these actions will help vaping fulfil the role in making smoking obsolete in the most responsible manner.

Find out more about Centrebound’s test purchasing services.