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    Trading standards seize £1.1m worth of illegal vapes in Newcastle

    Examples of vaping products shown to Newcastle City Council's health scrutiny committee (Photo: LDRS)

    By Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter

    Tens of thousands of illegal vapes with a street value of more than £1 million  have been seized in Newcastle, amid an “explosion” in sales of the products linked to organised crime gangs.

    Councillors were left “horrified” as they were told of the scale of the city’s vaping problems.

    While seen as a tool that can help adult smokers to quit, there have been major concerns about the supply of e-cigarettes that do not comply with legal standards and particularly about growing use among children.

    There have also been complaints about discarded vapes and their packaging littering the city’s streets and green spaces.

    Newcastle Trading Standards manager David Ellerington told members of the city council’s health scrutiny committee on 14 December how his team had seized 3.3 tonnes worth of  non-compliant vaping products since an “explosion” in their popularity from autumn 2021 – equating to around 76,000 e-cigarettes and refill containers, worth a total £1.1m.

    Mr Ellerington said that organised crime groups previously involved in illicit tobacco supplies had now switched to supplying vapes and that “certain people are making a lot of money off of this”.

    He added that a raft of complaints about vapes had included school headteachers handing over products to the council that they had discovered in children’s pencil cases.

    Three shops in Byker were closed down earlier this year having been found selling counterfeit cigarettes and vapes, in some cases to children as young as 10, after the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed concerns from a parent about hoards of youths flocking to shops on Shields Road where they knew they would get served.

    A corner shop on Heaton’s Chillingham Road also had its licence suspended for three months in November, following multiple seizures of illegal tobacco and non-compliant vapes.

    Mr Ellerington, who warned in a report that offending retailers are using “very clever and elaborate concealments” to hide illegal items during council inspections, said: “We realise this work is important and we do get a lot of complaints from residents about it. There are kids coming into Newcastle getting hold of these vapes because it is seen as a soft target and because this is where the shops are. That is not to say that we are the problem – there is a problem across Tyne and Wear, but we are dealing with it as best we can.”

    The committee’s chair, Cllr Wendy Taylor, called for shops to be banned from putting vapes on display – as is the case with cigarettes.

    She added: “I was horrified to see the figure of 3.3 tonnes of non-compliant vape products being collected. It is scary.”

    It is an offence to sell a vaping product containing nicotine to anyone under the age of 18, manufacturers have been accused of targeting children with brightly-coloured packaging and sweet flavours.

    Mr Ellerington’s report said that the demand for vapes has resulted in illegal importation of products from Asia and the US that do not have the same restriction on volume or nicotine content required by the UK law.

    The government is considering new regulations to crack down on the use of vapes – with proposals including restrictions on their flavours, keeping them out of sight of children in shops, and closing loopholes in the law which allow children to get free samples and buy non-nicotine vapes.

    (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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