Retailers in Leeds are receiving a stern warning against selling nicotine vapes to individuals under 18, as part of a concerted effort by Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Trading Standards to curb youth vaping. Emphasizing the illegality of selling vapes containing nicotine to those under 18, the campaign aims to educate parents, caregivers, and children about the realities of vaping.

While acknowledging the potential benefits of vapes as a tool for quitting smoking, authorities stress that they should not be used by children or non-smokers. Retailers are cautioned that selling vapes to underage individuals could result in fines of up to £2,500, with an unlimited fine for trading in illicit tobacco.

Residents are encouraged to report instances of retailers selling nicotine-containing vapes to underage individuals to West Yorkshire Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline at 0808 223 1133. Parents and caregivers are also urged to engage in conversations with their children about vaping, including its risks such as coughing, headaches, dizziness, and sore throats, with the long-term effects remaining unknown.

The key message to parents, caregivers, children, and young people is a straightforward one: ‘Don’t smoke? Don’t start to vape!’

According to the 2023 Leeds My Health My School survey, 7.1% of 11-16-year-old pupils vape occasionally or regularly, with 16% having tried vaping. Additionally, the survey reveals that even primary-age children (9-11 years) are exposed to vaping, with 5.8% admitting to having vaped.

To support this campaign, schools are provided with informational materials such as leaflets, posters, lesson plans, and an animation detailing the facts about vaping.

Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, said; “Vapes can be an effective quit aid for smokers and we know that smoking remains a leading cause of disease, disability, and premature death. But vapes are not risk-free and too many children are taking up vaping, many of whom are being sold vapes by unscrupulous retailers.

“We want to ensure parents and children know the facts about vapes and we’re warning retailers they could face severe financial penalties if they sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18.

“People can report anyone they suspect of selling vapes underage to Trading Standards.”

Between August 2022 and July 2023, 65% of all underage sale complaints in Leeds were related to retailers selling vapes to underage individuals. In the past nine months in Leeds, Trading Standards seized 4,637 illegal vapes, and across West Yorkshire, a total of 18,932 were confiscated.

Fines for selling unregulated vaping devices, whether to adults or underage individuals, can be substantial. A recent case in Leeds saw a retailer fined £2,000 for selling an oversized disposable vape to a 14-year-old, with additional costs of £3,000 and an £800 surcharge.

David Strover, Trading Standards Manager at West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said; “Many of these vapes are oversized, having illegal quantities of nicotine and we know they are being used regularly by children. We want to send a very strong message to anyone who sells illegal vapes, or any vapes with nicotine to those under 18s, they will be investigated with a view to prosecution in Court.

“Anyone selling vapes containing nicotine to someone under 18 years old is committing an offence. The owner of the business can be held responsible as well as the member of staff who made the sale, and in certain circumstances, retailers can also face closure if they persistently flout the law.

“If you know of anyone selling vapes illegally, you can report them to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice portal: https://bit.ly/LCCreportvaping”

To address the national issue, the public is invited to participate in the government’s Creating a Smoke-free Generation and Tackling Youth Vaping consultation, focusing on measures to reduce the appeal, availability, and affordability of vapes. Plans include raising the legal age for tobacco purchase and increasing funding for local stop smoking services, “quit smoking” campaigns, and efforts to reduce youth vaping and tackle illicit tobacco and vaping.