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BAT has launched a major media campaign calling for new regulations that will require any retailer selling vapes to require a licence, similar to the one needed to sell alcohol.

The tobacco giant – whose Vuse brand is the most popular rechargeable vaping product on the UK market – is also calling for dessert and soft drink vape flavours to be banned, and the use of marketing slogans and imagery involving toys, cartoons, and sweets to be outlawed.

The “multi-pronged media campaign” involves newspaper ads and billboards across the UK.

“As the largest manufacturer of vaping products in the UK, we are clear on our responsibilities and are urging the government to introduce more stringent vaping regulations,” said Asli Ertonguc, BAT lead for the UK.

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Source: BAT

“We recognise that some want single-use vapes banned altogether, but we are concerned such a move would lead to unregulated sales, and less options for adult smokers looking to switch. Governments should wield their enforcement powers to help rebuild confidence in vaping by ensuring adult consumers can buy legitimate products, and suitably penalising those who fail to comply,” Ertonguc added.

The sale of alcohol by retail outlets has been legislated for some time, formalised in the Licensing Act 2003. Serving underage customers can result in a store losing its permission to sell alcohol. There is currently no licensing scheme for tobacco sales – although you do need to register as a vendor – but being caught selling counterfeit cigarettes or tobacco products to underage customers can often lead to a retailer losing their premises licence.

BAT is calling for a separate vape sales licence, which would be revoked if the retailer was found to be selling to anyone underage. It is similar to the proposal put forward by the UK Vaping Industry Association – which cut all ties with the tobacco industry, including BAT, in September – whereby retailers would have to pay for a permit to sell vape products and be fined for selling to children.

“Under the scheme, retailers would also have to demonstrate to Trading Standards that they observe either Challenge 25 protocols or new technologies at point-of-sale locations which verify age, such as facial recognition cameras,” BAT said.

The UKVIA says most retailers would support such a scheme. Research by ASH in November last year found 81% of newsagents, off-licences, convenience stores and petrol stations support the introduction of a tobacco licence and 83% support the introduction of mandatory age verification for anyone under 25. The research found 69% supported proposals to prohibit colours, cartoon characters, and names of sweets which might appeal to children on vaping product packaging.

BAT also wants vaping products shipped to the UK to be subject to a mandatory testing programme to ensure products are compliant with UK regulations before they can be sold. The call comes after testing commissioned by the company earlier this year found disposable vapes containing 50% more than the legal limit of liquid nicotine being sold in major supermarkets.

The tobacco giant also wants it to be mandatory for single-use vapes to have removable batteries, to make recycling more straightforward for consumers.

BAT’s campaign comes as the government is considering a range of response to the rise in underage vaping. Recent NHS Digital data shows a doubling of regular vape use for 11 to 15-year-olds from 2018 to 2021, while a 2022 ASH survey found 15.8% of 11 to 17-year-olds had tried vaping and 7% were current users.

Among the potential policy responses currently under consultation are a ban on flavoured vapes and their open display in stores, plain packaging and increased tax.

“With the consultation period on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill about to close we have a narrow window to get this right,” Ertonguc said. “And it begins with having honest conversations about the appropriate regulation that offers smokers wanting to switch the freedom to choose alternatives to cigarettes.”