Children as young as 10 sold illegal vapes in Luton says council

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Some of the vapes are as strong as 500 cigarettes, council warns

Excess levels of lead and cadmium have been found in some illegal vapes in Luton, while the contents of some are equivalent to 500 cigarettes, according to the local authority.

These vapes are attractive to teenagers and children, and have been sold to some as young as ten- or 11 years old within the town by shop owners, warned a report to the borough council’s health and wellbeing board

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The number of premises identified over activities relating to illicit tobacco in Luton borough is 119, with the “vast majority in the town centre and Bury Park area”.

File photo of a person vaping. Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)File photo of a person vaping. Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)
File photo of a person vaping. Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

The sale and availability of illicit tobacco and vapes is a national problem, as is the underage sale of both legal and illegal nicotine-containing products, according to the report. An update on the Luton tobacco control strategy 2023 to 2028 was presented to LBC’s health and wellbeing board.

“Trading standards has sent some illegal vapes to a laboratory for analysis and found excess levels of lead and cadmium,” said the report.

“Intelligence gathered has identified some 119 premises involved in illicit tobacco sales in the borough, with the vast majority in the town centre and Bury Park area.

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“Illicit tobacco can be in the form of cigarettes, hand rolling or chewing tobacco and other niche products. This can either be genuine and has been imported illegally evading tax duty, or it can be a counterfeit product made to look genuine.

In the UK, the maximum permitted content of a disposable electronic vape is two millilitres fluid and two per cent nicotine, which equates to about 600 puffs.

“Bottles of vape liquid refill containing nicotine must be no larger than ten millilitres,” explained the report. “Many of the illegal vapes are being imported from China, and these equate to over two millilitres fluid and two per cent nicotine content and more than 600 puffs.

“Attractive flavours, the use of trading names similar to well-known branded drinks and confectionery, as well as devices being brightly coloured, are all relevant when considering the target audience, as is being seen with a large vape which exceeds the maximum legal permitted content.

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“Many children carry money, and their sale has been noted to be a mainly cash-based business. Trading standards has seized 13,378 illegal vapes since 2021, many through unannounced visits to premises and test purchases.

“These interventions at a local level along with successful prosecution have resulted in a significant reduction in the availability of illegal vapes in the borough, with more shopkeepers understanding their responsibilities and knowledge of the maximum permitted nicotine and liquid content.

“Trading standards is aware from retailers that vans containing these vapes enter Luton to sell to shopkeepers,” added the report. “Some of them were initially unaware of the difference between legal and illicit vapes.

“But there are retailers fully aware of the legal requirements who’ve sold illegal vapes persistently. And while they may not be available from the town’s shops as much as they were initially, there’s a likely online market provision and trading practices designed to evade detection.”

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