The disposable vaping craze that has struck the UK since covid lockdown ended has been an unprecedented phenomenon with the small devices causing a big stir both among consumers and retailers alike.
Despite their popularity and admittedly uber-convenient appeal, there have been a number of reported issues raised by both consumers and authorities surrounding the moral and legal issues of the craze, we have broken down everything you need to know about disposable vapes in our blog, however the latest headlines reveal that Trading Standards have now taken direct action in an effort to protect UK consumers.
Disposable Vapes Targeted by Trading Standards
In a dramatic sweep of wholesalers across Glasgow, vast quantities of disposable vaping products have been stripped from shelves as part of a major recall operation now actively enforced by Trading Standards and the Scottish Government.
At least 12 major wholesalers were investigated in the sweep, which took place in October and November this year (2021). This stern action came at the behest of increasing accusations of malpractice by some of the UK’s biggest names in disposable vaping, including Geek, Elf and Glamz bars, as named by Better Retailing.
A spokesperson from Glasgow City Council said illegal disposable vapes were found “in a broad range of places” visited. “Our main focus has been on wholesale, and the problem is widespread. It is mainly one of the imported brands with variants that do not comply with UK standards rather than counterfeit products”.
A branch of United Wholesale was one site impacted by the investigation which saw 28 disposable vaping lines immediately removed from sale. Similarly, wholesaler Clyde Importers were ordered to remove a whopping 90% of their disposable vapes due almost exclusively to non-compliant packaging.
This latest crack-down has come into effect following warnings to retailers from Trading Standards, backed by full support from government. This included a letter from Trading Standards Officer Catherine Cummings, warning that “there has been a recent rise in reports across the UK of illegal vaping products being found on sale. These products are commonly referred to as ‘disposable vapes’, ‘nicotine puffs’, ‘Elf Bars’ or ‘Geek Bars’.”
While this action has been focussed on Glasgow, the disposable ‘problem’ is far from isolated. Nationwide reports from official bodies and the public have identified issues over the last few months. In one example, Walsall Trading Standards seized Geek Bar devices from a local retailer on 15th September. The enforcing team involved explained: “Walsall Trading Standards have found and seized these disposable vapes. Geek Bar vapes are legal; Geek Bar *Pro* vapes are illegal as the amount of liquid in them is above the permitted amount.”
Why Disposables Are Being Targeted
Due to their rapid rise to popularity the scrabble by retailers to meet demand has opened up the disposable vaping market to illicit imports, counterfeit products and those that simply do not comply with UK regulations.
To protect consumers, swift action is now being taken to take back control of the market and secure it so the public can vape with confidence that the proper measures are being adhered to. The main reasons the devices in question breach vaping laws are tank capacities being over the 2ml legal limit, as well as the nicotine concentration of some examples being found to be above the 2% (20mg/ml) limit dictated by TPD. Beyond this many examples have also been found to lack the necessary warnings and symbols on their packaging that make the products legal, and safe, to sell.
Clyde Importers Buyer, Aziz Kessam, commented that, of the products seized in the sweep: “all these products are approved (by the MHRA) but many didn’t have the nicotine dose on the box”.
The combined risk of these non-compliant elements to consumers has created great concern among industry and government experts. Social media has recently been flooded with images of bleeding and reports of people experiencing severe symptoms of nicotine overdose. Claims that have been directly blamed on “dodgy” disposable vapes.
The Action Taken to Protect Consumers
In the months leading up to the wholesale investigations and indeed since, increasing action is being taken in an effort to protect consumers from the harm illegal disposables can cause. On the 5th of October, a letter was sent by the Scottish government to all retailers registered to sell vaping products under their Tobacco Register stating:
“We have been alerted to some information from Trading Standards as to the availability of a number of disposable nicotine vaping products on the market that breach the requirements of the Tobacco and Related Product Regulations 2016 (TARP). You should immediately check your stock of disposable electronic cigarettes to ensure they meet the requirements of the TARP regulations.”
In addition, retailers have been given official advice regarding how to ensure their disposable products are legal and safe. Calling for them to ensure that their stock has a UK address for import or manufacture, that nicotine concentrations and tank sizes do not exceed the legal limits, and that all products come with an information leaflet. Retailers were also asked to ensure that all packaging carries the legally required safety information, warnings and symbols designed to inform and protect the public.
Manufacturers and suppliers have also shown willing to rectify the problems their businesses are facing. Glamz Bar Managing Director Gulam Hussein has been working with authorities to address the issues and ensure future stock is fully compliant. He has however stated that “All my stock is compliant, but I am having products sent back because there is no clarity around packaging size and information. I am happy to make changes, but we need a standard format across the UK.”
He goes on to highlight some confusion around the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) published list of approved vaping products. Claiming that the stock recalled following the investigation was in fact registered but had not yet appeared on the online list. The MHRA has been firm in it’s response however, reminding all suppliers that until it actually appears on the published list, no vaping product line is legal for sale.
Similarly, Geek Bar has told Better Retailing that it is now actively working with Trading Standards to support their efforts in cleaning up the disposable vaping market.
The maximum penalty for stocking non-compliant products is £5,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment. Chris Gallagher, Managing Director of the aforementioned United Wholesale, told Better Retailing: “we have put our trust in suppliers to supply stock that is legally correct to sell in the UK,” going on to confirm that his suppliers were “in contact with the authority to understand the reason for removal.”
Until such a time as the market can be secured, we advise the LiQuid community to buy with caution, and challenge retailers if you suspect their stock is unsafe. Use the advice given by the government above to ask the important questions, and ensure the products tick all the boxes required to make them legal and prove that they are safe for you to enjoy.