By: Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter
Council officials have closed five shops and seized nearly half a million pounds’ worth of illegal vapes from across Derby – and are set to use dogs to find more.
Derby City Council officials have been so prolific in their seizure of illegal vape items that they have had to buy an extra storage container for the evidence.
This is linked to evidence of primary school and secondary school pupils smoking vapes.
The total amount of illegal vapes seized from shops in the city and a Derby car found in Nottingham is worth £491,333.
Of this, 32,000 illegal vapes worth £432,000 were found in the car, with 4,395 illegal vapes worth £59,333 found in Derby shops.
To date, five shops have been closed, with one ordered to do so by a forceful “closure order” signed off by a judge, with items seized from 34 shops in total.
In January this year, the city council identified that shop which was closed by a court order. This was Spondon Local (also known as Spondon Mini Market) at 90 Sitwell Street.
The city council found the shop selling illegally imported and counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco and selling vapes to local West Park School pupils. It also found vapes which do not comply with UK laws, resulting in its forceful closure for three months.
A new council report says there are still three ongoing investigations into shops suspected of distributing illegal vape products and three warning letters have been issued.
The council has executed six search warrants with three resulting in “non-compliant/counterfeit” vapes being found.
Meanwhile, £6,241 in cash was seized under proceeds of crime charges, with a proportion of this also relating to illegal tobacco items.
The council has received 36 complaints relating to the underage sale of vapes.
During a city council health scrutiny meeting this week (October 3), Donna Dowse, the authority’s Trading Standards service manager, said vapes had been linked to “gang warfare and grooming”.
She said vaping had been reported among both primary and secondary school children, who are all underage.
Ms Dowse said tobacco dogs were often deployed to help search shops for illegal tobacco and that dogs were now being trained to find illegal vapes.
She said people seeking to hide illegal tobacco and vapes were “getting more creative”, including a shop in the city centre hiding items in an electronically activated panel in a floor tile.
Cllr Carmel Ashby said the “terrible growth” in vape shops “in every part of the city” were “becoming a scar on the city”.
Ms Dowse said there was currently no licensing legislation for vape shops to restrict their practices, with anti-social behaviour issues the only current way to enforce some kind of action.
Robyn Dewis, Derby’s public health director, said vapes were a useful tool to help people quit smoking, with clear evidence it was a “better option” for health purposes.
However, she said there was no evidence yet about the long-term impact of vapes on health, in comparison to smoking.
She said: “It is illegal vapes and underage sales that we are very concerned about, which can lead to ongoing addiction.
“Some flavours being promoted that are specifically attractive to children, like bubblegum, that are clearly marketed to a particular age group.
“Nicotine is very addictive and if started at a young age could become a lifelong habit.”
She said the “doctoring” of vapes with “cannabis and other drugs” was “definitely happening”.
The council is working with head teachers and the university to help spread advice about the issue.
Cllr Nicola Roulstone, chair of the meeting, said she started smoking cigarettes at age 12 and now had a lifetime dependence on nicotine, and found the trend of vaping among school pupils “really concerning”.
She said: “I think we are probably just touching the outskirts of this in terms of the number of shops and online issues we are facing with this – I know myself having teenage children – where friends of theirs have met people online who are selling a vape.”
Councillors asked that money seized from illegal suppliers should be funded back into the council’s work to combat their distribution.
(Local Democracy Reporting Service)