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Officers will undertake test purchasing in convenience stores and vape shops

The government is to launch an ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ in a bid to crack down on underage vaping. 

The squad will be led by Trading Standards and work across the UK. It will share its intelligence with regional networks and local authorities.

The government has committed £3m to the effort, which will see officers undertake test purchasing in convenience stores and vape shops. It will “also produce guidance to help build regulatory compliance, and will have the power to remove illegal products from shops and at our borders” the government said. 

The government said the squad’s aim was to “clamp down on those businesses who sell vapes to children – which is illegal – and get them hooked on nicotine”.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange yesterday, health minister Neil O’Brien said the rise of youth vaping was “a new threat” and called out disposable devices.

“Whether it’s disposable vapes marketed to kids with bright colours, or low prices, or cartoon characters or child-friendly flavours, or indeed products being sold that don’t meet our rules on content,” he said. “Today we step up our efforts to stop kids getting hooked on vaping. My message is this: if your business plan relies on getting kids hooked on nicotine, we are coming for you.”

NHS figures for 2021 showed that 9% of 11 to 15-year-old children used e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018.

“That’s a rapidly rising trend we need to stop,” O’Brien said.

Read more: Will vaping’s youth appeal force a crackdown?

The government has launched a call for evidence on vaping covering “how we ensure regulatory compliance, look at the appearance and characteristics of vapes, about their marketing and promotion of vapes, and the role of social media”.

“It will also seek to better understand the vape market, looking at issues such as the price of low cost products and disposables,” O’Brien explained.

The government will also consider the environmental impact of vapes – particularly disposables. The call for evidence will be open for the next eight weeks.

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) welcomed the policy intervention.

“The law is absolutely clear – it is illegal to sell vapes to under 18-year-olds and therefore it is a criminal offence to do so,” said UKVIA director general John Dunne. “Therefore, we welcome the targeted action expected to be announced by the government on youth vaping, which clearly homes in on cutting the source of supply of vapes to minors from rogue resellers.

“We’re especially pleased that the government has taken on board our idea of a test purchasing scheme across the country, which will help to keep a much-needed close eye on the sales activities of retailers,” he added.