Nearly 1,000,000 illegal vapes were seized across London in 2022.
Vapes seem to be everywhere, with most corner shops and supermarkets selling the smoking replacement devices.
But what many people might not realise is what they’re buying may not be fully legal and safe.
Recent data shows obtained by Vape Club found traders sold the equivalent of two illegal vapes every minute in the capital last year.
Illegal vapes range from products which do not comply with UK regulations and have not been through the appropriate testing to ensure safety, to counterfeits of popular brands.
Heathrow Airport has been dubbed a ‘hotbed’ for those aiming to import illegal devices into the capital, with 856,780 vapes seized by the London Borough of Hillingdon.
Recent raids by Westminster City Council supported by a UK Vaping Industry Association representative on Oxford Street confiscated items with a value of £145,000.
This included 2,381 vape pens estimated to be up to four times the legal tank size limit.
Adam Hug, leader of the council in central London, explained how the illegal items have impacted trade around the West End.
He said: ‘Over the past 15 months, we have now seized more than £1 million in items from super strength vapes to designer fakes.
‘That is an astonishing amount of fake and potentially dangerous items taken off the streets of the West End.
‘We are dealing here with a sophisticated and determined rack that exploits UK legal loopholes to trade from shop lets.’
But he noted as the local authority, Westminster ‘can only do so much’.
‘The biggest issue enabling unscrupulous traders is the fact they are usually run by shell companies with fictitious directors,’ he added.
These counterfeit products are a cause for concern for the legitimate vaping industry, and those promoting safe and legal use.
Dan Marchant, director of the UK’s largest vaping retailer Vape Club, reminded vape users how dangerous illicit products can be for users’ health.
Number of vapes seized by London borough in 2022
- London Borough of Barnet: 63
- London Borough of Camden: 1,399
- London Borough of Croydon: 4,785
- London Borough of Hackney: 2,312
- London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham: 5,744
- London Borough of Hillingdon: 856,780
- London Borough of Islington: 1,508
- London Borough of Hounslow: 20,210
- London Borough of Newham: 3,265
- London Borough of Sutton: 43
Source: Vape Club
He added: ‘We’d advise steering clear of any retailer you’re unsure of, and stick to reputable retailers.
‘An illegal vape can sometimes be spotted by the product description, specifically the number of puffs being advertised.’
Under UK law the maximum volume of e-liquid that can legally be in a vape product is 2ml, around 500 to 600 puffs at most.
Mr Marchant continued: ‘Any product claiming to be more than this is usually a reliable indication that the product is not legal and has not been through the appropriate testing and safety measures.
‘The responsible side of the industry are literally begging for the authorities to enforce the regulations and take serious action against the businesses flouting the rules.’
He recommended the implementation of a licensing scheme to make sure there is proper age verification tests in place for retailers.
‘There must be higher fines, applied to every breach, for the rogue sellers,’ he said.
‘The UK Vaping Industry Association is calling for the fines to be raised to at least £10,000, which would be a real deterrent.’
Vapes have also been a danger in other ways, with one boy’s foot impaled by a vape pen last year.
Harley Bennett, 13, was out with friends in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, when he found the used Elfbar pen on the floor in a subway in October.
He stood the four-inch-long vape up vertically, thinking he would be able to crush it by stamping on it – but instead it pierced through his trainer, sock and went directly into his foot.
He has since made a good recovery.
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