Mustafa Karim, who owns Stoke City Vapes Store in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty to one count of selling an e-liquid to someone under the age of 18. The sale was made as part of an underage sales test purchase exercise carried out by Stoke-on-Trent City Council Trading Standards team in July 2022.
A spokesperson for the city council said: “It is illegal to sell vapes or tobacco to anyone under the age of 18. Our test purchases are done in a controlled way to check that premises are following the legal requirements that are in place to protect residents. All retailers should ensure their staff are properly trained to prevent these products getting into the hands of children.”
The trial took place on 3 April. Prosecuting for the city council, Anthony O’Dowd said: “[Karim had] not put any process in place to ensure underage sales did not occur… [and he] admitted he did not keep a refusals register and did not know what the Challenge 25 scheme was.”
Trading Standards also seized 25 illegal vapes found at the store; this can include those with a tank size in excess of 2ml or which carry inaccurate health warnings. Mitigating for Karim, Tac Hussain told magistrates that he had found running the business on his own difficult, particularly “keeping up with the admin side”.
Magistrates fined Karim £250 with a victim surcharge of £100. He will also have to pay £611 court costs. Karim is no longer running the business and, Hussain said, is now retraining to be a barber.
The situation around the country
Since January last year Stoke-on-Trent Trading Standards have removed 3,338 illegal vapes worth £43,394 during test purchases at businesses across the city.
Speaking in January 2022, cabinet member for Housing and Environment Carl Edwards said: “Our team regularly carry out test purchases to check that premises are following their legal requirements. We will always take action against anyone found to be involved in the storage, distribution or supply of illegal vapes. The message is clear – you will face consequences if you deal in illegal vapes.”
NHS figures from 2021 cited by the BBC show that vaping among 11-to-15-year-olds have risen; in 2018 6% had used an e-cigarette, which rose to 9% in 2021. More recent research for the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that 8.6% of young people in the UK either regularly or occasionally vape.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are considered safer than normal cigarettes because they do not contain tobacco, however the long-term consequences of usage are not yet clear.
Government action against e-cigarettes
The Government has come under increasing pressure to act on illegal vape sales and in early April announced that a new “illicit vapes enforcement squad” would be set up with £3mn in funding to tackle enforcing the law around the illegal sales of vapes. The initiative will be led by Trading Standards teams across the country and will undertake specific projects such as test purchases.
In a speech at Policy Exchange Health Minister Neil O’Brien said the enforcement squad will “clamp down on those businesses who sell vapes to children – which is illegal – and get them hooked on nicotine”.
Residents or businesses concerned about the supplying of products to underage children can contact the Trading Standards fakes hotline on 01782 238444.