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    Hundreds of illegal vapes seized from rapidly-growing ‘black market’ in Caerphilly

    Illegal vapes seized in Bolton (Photo: Bolton Council via LDRS)

    By Nicholas Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter

    A “black market” for illegal vapes is growing “rapidly” and products are being “targeted at children”, Caerphilly County Borough Council has warned.

    Illegal vapes imported into the UK fail to meet “stringent” European safety standards, with more than a thousand products found across the county borough in the past 12 months.

    The council said trading standards officers seized 1,203 illegal vapes last year, and several retailers in the county borough are “expected to be the subject of formal enforcement action” for their alleged links to illicit products.

    Amid ongoing national work to strengthen vaping laws, Caerphilly’s trading standards team is focusing on removing illegal products from the market and also on preventing under-18s from purchasing legal vapes.

    Complaints about underage sales of vapes outstripped those for sales of alcohol and tobacco in Caerphilly last year, fuelling concerns the use of electronic cigarettes is becoming all-too-common among youngsters.

    Caerphilly Youth Forum has already warned about the “normalisation” of youth vaping and how accessible and affordable vapes are for under-18s.

    Caerphilly County Borough Council has heard in the past year that schools are rife with vape use, including on school buses, and that youngsters are facing “peer pressure” to use the products, which cannot legally be used by – or sold to – anyone under the age of 18.

    A new council report shows the county borough’s trading standards department dealt with 40 complaints about various age-restricted products in 2023/24.

    Of those, 26 were for sales of vapes and e-cigarettes, compared with 12 for alcohol and two for tobacco.

    Those complaints mirror the “increased prevalence” of vape use in society generally, “both by adults as a safer alternative to tobacco and worryingly by children”, the council report said.

    Electronic cigarettes are still promoted as a possible method of quitting smoking – the NHS currently notes vaping is “substantially less harmful” – but today’s market is crowded with single-use, brightly-coloured vapes containing fruity or sweet flavours.

    These “appeal” to younger people, Caerphilly Youth Forum warned in May, as it made addressing underage vape use its “priority issue” for the year.

    The council’s trading standards team uses teenage volunteers to follow up on complaints about underage vapes and other products, sending them into shops for so-called “test purchases”.

    Hidden recording equipment allows the council officers to carry out enforcement action against any traders who fail to check for ID and refuse an underage sale.

    The good news in Caerphilly is that shopkeepers appear to be getting better at following the rules. Last year, only two of the 38 stores targeted failed the “test purchase” – a rate of 5 per cent, down considerably from 20 per cent and 17 per cent in the two previous years.

    (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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