Wholesalers axe illegal disposable vapes
The disposable vape trend continues to persist as we draw closer to 2022, with a staggering number of people opting for the single-use vaping devices over traditional e-cigarettes and e-liquid. Our blog explores these devices in more detail but their convenience, high nicotine strength yet smooth hit, and bold flavour options have resonated with UK consumers en-masse.
Despite their popularity, and in part because of it, there are a number of growing concerns around the devices, ranging from their environmental impact to an influx of illegal, non-compliant examples which you can read more about here.
These illegal variants have been slowly creeping into the market alongside compliant examples. This has led to a number of issues being experienced by consumers, from suspected internal bleeding to a range of symptoms synonymous with nicotine overdose. Reportedly owing to mis-labelled products containing more than the legal limit of 20mg/ml of nicotine.
The latest in this evolving story has seen fears of non-compliant disposable vapes confirmed, as wholesalers across Glasgow are forced to remove whole ranges from their shelves following investigations by trading standards, Better Retail Reports.
A Targeted Sweep by Trading Standards
Trading Standards officers conducted targeted investigations of at least 12 major wholesaler depots across Glasgow throughout October and November. This came in response to continued reports of alleged malpractice by some of the UK’s leading brands of disposable vaping devices.
This follows similar reports from across the UK that have circulated since the devices’ explosion in popularity since UK lockdown ended. Due to this popularity, the demand for devices has opened up the market to illegal products that have been released without the required packaging standards, or in some cases without proper Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) registration.
A spokesperson from Glasgow City Council said illegal disposable vaping products were uncovered “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”.
Typically, the most common reasons for non-compliance were found to be the disposable’s tank capacity exceeding the 2ml legal UK limit, excess concentrations of nicotine above the aforementioned 20mg/ml limit and packaging not carrying the required warnings, symbols and consumer information.
The Products Affected by The Sweep
The Maxwell Road branch of United Wholesale was one of the 12 Glaswegian sites inspected, they confirmed that they were ordered to remove 28 lines from sale immediately. These included the biggest disposable vaping brands in the UK, who account for the lion’s share of the market – Geek Bar, Elf Bar and Glamz Bar.
In similar fashion, wholesaler Clyde Importers were ordered by Trading Standards to remove 90% of their disposable vaping stock due to non-compliant packaging. Clyde Importers Buyer, Aziz Kessam, commented that “all these products are approved (by the MHRA) but many didn’t have the nicotine dose on the box”.
In response to the issues his brand is now facing, Glamz Bar Managing Director Gulam Hussein has told Better Retailing “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.”
Hussein blamed part of the recall on the MHRA’s online list of approved products, which had supposedly not been updated despite his products receiving initial approval. An MHRA spokesperson however has since advised that until it actually appears on the published list, no vaping product line is legal for sale, and that they are providing direct support to the Trading Standards teams carrying out the investigations.
The maximum penalty for stocking non-compliant products is £5,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment. United Wholesale Managing Director, Chris Gallagher, 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.”
The Response to Growing Concerns
Since September this year (2021), mounting actions have been taken leading up to the enaction of the product removals described above. Many of the suppliers whose products have been called into question are actively seen to be engaging with relevant authorities to ensure their products are made legal. Despite this there have been a number of official warnings and advice issued by government authorities.
Prior to targeting wholesalers, Trading Standards agents had already taken enforcement action in stores following a slew of reports of illegal disposable vapes in the market. One such action included a letter sent to retailers by Highlands Trading Standards officer Catherine Cumming which claimed “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’.”
She goes on to criticise the design, price, and flavours available in disposable vapes for being particularly attractive to younger people, reminding retailers that vaping products must never be sold to persons below the age of 18. Noting that many of the devices were found to contain “excessive amounts of nicotine which are harmful in continual consumption.”
The Scottish Government was quick to support the actions of Trading Standards, warning retailers of all sizes to immediately check the legitimacy of their disposable vaping stock. A letter was sent on the 5th October to all businesses 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.”
Acknowledging that awareness of the laws among retailers remains limited, the official advice issued by government is as follows:
- Check products stocked have a UK address for import or manufacture.
- Ensure nicotine content is no more than 2% (20mg/ml) and must not exceed 2ml in capacity.
- Ensure products come packaged with an information leaflet.
- Ensure every product carries the health warning and complies with labelling requirements under TARP.
The brands named in the investigations have been seen to be proactive in rectifying the issues however. Many, including Geek Bar, are now in contact with Trading Standards to support efforts to clean up the market so consumers can buy with confidence once again.