Lack of targeted enforcement is fuelling youth vaping, says Arcus Compliance

Lack of targeted enforcement is fuelling youth vaping, says Arcus Compliance

Only 21 successful prosecutions have been made against retailers for underage and illicit sales between 2021 and early 2023

As the government considers new vape legislation, which could see the sale of disposables restricted over youth fears, new research by Arcus Compliance has revealed a “lack of regulatory enforcement” is being taken against rogue vape traders selling single-use devices.

Data gathered through Freedom of Information requests, looking at the activities of trading standards teams across the country in addressing youth access and illegal products, show that across 11 major provincial UK cities – which have a shared population of more than 5.5 million people – just 21 successful prosecutions have been made against retailers for underage and illicit sales between 2021 and early 2023.

Furthermore, the highest total amount of fines given out across these cities over the same time period was £2,188.

This is less than the current maximum fine that can be issued to just one offender at £2,500 and is considerably less than the £10,000 on-the-spot fines that much of the sector, led by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), has been asking government for.

Arcus Compliance said that the data also covers the activity of trading standards teams across London. In the areas covered by ten local authorities that make up central London, there were seven reported successful prosecutions and one fine of £1,000 between 2021 and early 2023.

Twenty-one local authorities provided data on prosecutions, fines, raids and product seizures for underage and illicit vape sales. A handful also claimed that there was punitive action that was not concluded, or that there were ‘expected’ or ‘almost certain’ prosecutions impending.

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The research comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunka put forward plans for a generational smoking ban and the government announced new investment for illicit tobacco and vape products enforcement functions.

Robert Sidebottom, managing director at Arcus Compliance, said the “concerning lack of proactive enforcement in the form of prosecutions and penalties shown by our research demonstrates that the ‘system is in serious distress”.

He added: “It’s staggering to see just how few prosecutions there have been and how low the levels of fines are, given the huge amount of concern over youth and illicit vaping. Trading standards have been crying out for additional resources and support for some time and there’s no doubt as to why.

“The government has now pledged £30m to help intercept illegal tobacco and vape goods at the border and to tackle youth access. While this is a welcome development, we can’t just slap a multi-million-pound Band-Aid on the issue of underage and illicit vape sales and call it a day – especially if parliamentarians move on considerations to restrict the sale of disposable vapes.

“This is a complex challenge which also requires regulators to ensure rogue traders are facing impactful punitive action, as well as greater national coordination from trading standards and greater powers for local enforcement officers.

“It should be noted that, according to Action on Smoking and Health Chair and Imperial College London Professor Nick Hopkinson, trading standards budgets have reportedly been halved, cut by an estimated £200m, since 2010 – almost seven times the newly announced £30menforcement investment.”

The report also showcased a detailed case study on enforcement efforts in North Lanarkshire, where 36 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN), amounting to £8,600, have been issued to retailers for the sale of nicotine vape products to minors between 2021 and early 2023.

This is more than 2.5 times the amount issued in fines and FPNs by the other 21 local authorities to provide data for this report.

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