illions of illicit e-cigarettes have been seized by trading standards departments since the beginning of 2020, an investigation has revealed.
Freedom of information requests from The Guardian to 125 local authorities uncovered more than 2.5 million illegal and potentially harmful vapes have been collected over the last three years.
More than 1,350,000 vapes were seized by trading standards at Hillingdon Borough Council in west London alone due to the area’s proximity to Heathrow – a major port of entry for the illegal trade.
These illicit e-cigarettes do not comply with UK legal regulations, meaning they could have higher nicotine concentration levels, contain banned ingredients or have oversized tanks for nicotine liquid.
We know that legal compliant vapes pose a fraction of the risk of smoking but we do not know what the risk is from illegal vapes
It has also been found that illegal vapes can contain high levels of lead, nickel and chromium.
Kate Pike, lead officer at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, told The Guardian the figures were the “tip of the iceberg”.
She said: “There is a significant number of illegal products on the market, which does not help when we are trying to support public health response which is to ensure the products are much safer than tobacco for smokers looking to quit.
“The main concern is that young people are getting their hands on these products… We do not want children or adults getting addicted to something at all like this.
“We know that legal compliant vapes pose a fraction of the risk of smoking but we do not know what the risk is from illegal vapes.”
Earlier this month, NHS leaders sounded the alarm over a rise in the number of children admitted to hospital for vaping.
The NHS said 40 children and young people were admitted to hospital in England last year due to “vaping-related disorders”, up from 11 two years before.
Paediatricians have also warned that “youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic among children” as they called on the Government to ban disposable vapes.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Guardian: “It is illegal to sell nicotine vapes to children and we are concerned about the recent rises in youth vaping, particularly because of the unknown long-term harms.
“We are taking bold action to end this practice through the £3m Illicit Vapes Enforcement Squad, which will tackle products imported and traded illicitly, remove illegal products from the market that don’t comply with our regulations, and tackle underage sales to children.
“We have also launched a call for evidence to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products and explore where the government can go further.
“The call for evidence has now closed, and the government will be considering a range of options based on the evidence provided.”