Up to £3m worth of over-strength, regulation-flouting disposable vaping products are being sold in the UK every week, according to the UK Vaping Industry Association.

An investigation by the association found evidence of “illicit and inappropriately branded disposable vape products” being sold widely both online and in stores.

UK regulations stipulate that disposable, pre-filled vape pens should contain no more than 20mg/ml of nicotine, but the UKVIA’s investigation discovered products both mislabelled as containing within-regulation amounts despite containing much higher concentrations, as well as over-strength products being openly sold.

The association also found products being sold with packaging that didn’t include warnings about the nicotine content, which is a legal requirement. Other products were being “purposely marketed towards children” it found.

The association sent mystery shoppers to investigate stores in several cities, as well as online. Major online marketplaces such as Amazon and convenience stores were called out by the UKVIA as key offenders.

“When I explained to one shop owner that it was illegal to sell 50mg/ml products like those available in his store he asked angrily ‘And who are you?’” said John Dunne, director general of the UKVIA.

The Grocer presented Amazon with an example of an over-strength product listed on its website in the UK, which it removed within 24 hours.

“Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” a spokesman for the company said. “We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores. The product in question is no longer available.” 

However, Dunne said it “only takes a minute to find more” and similar products were “still readily available”. The Grocer has confirmed this is the case.

Dunne explained some retailers were deliberately flouting the regulations while others were simply unaware of the rules and being targeted by unscrupulous distributors.

The association has pressed the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Trading Standards to address the problem, and has offered to help train agency staff and pay the salaries of dedicated enforcement officers.

“If nobody is getting pulled up about it the incentive to take the risk is quite high,” Dunne said.

The UKVIA said some suppliers had been misleading buyers, saying their products were fine to sell as the items had an ECID (European Community Identification) number, which they claimed proved they had been given the green light by the MHRA.

However, the manufacturer creates the ECID number when they submit their application to the MHRA for approval. It only becomes valid when it is approved and appears on the MHRA’s website as approved. In July, the MHRA clarified the wording in its description of the process.

The association has launched a free guide to provide vape product retailers with current regulations. The aim was to “ensure the industry’s reputation is not tarnished by a minority of resellers and retailers intent on making a quick buck out of a trending product” Dunne said.

The solution, Dunne added, was for regulators to take a harder line.

“Robust enforcement of the current regulations is the only answer and it’s needed now. We can provide support to the regulators and educate the industry on how to distinguish between what’s a compliant product or not, and we are in the process of doing this. However, we are not in a position to come down heavy on those breaking the law, that lies with the regulators,” he said.

The Independent British Vape Trade Association is also calling for tougher enforcement, saying it has “consistently maintained that non-compliance should not be a competitive advantage for a small number of bad actors”.