Pharmacies were amongst businesses found to have sold e-cigarettes and vaping liquids to young people in a series of trading standards inspections, with almost half of test sales found to be illegal. The exercise was carried out earlier this year to test compliance with the Nicotine Inhaling Products (Age of Sale & Proxy Purchasing) Regulations 2015, which came into force last October, that prohibit sales to under-18s.

Businesses visited ranged from independent pharmacies, pharmacy multiples, specialist e-cigarette suppliers, discount stores and markets, as well as traditional tobacco retailers. A total of 634 compliance tests were conducted between January and March by English trading standards services, supported by the Department of Health and managed by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

Of the small number of 29 pharmacy premises visited in the exercise, trading standards recorded eight illegal sales to under-18s from 15 pharmacy independents (53%) and six illegal sales in 14 national chains stores (43%). Other under-age sales were recorded at specialist e-cigarette suppliers (50%), markets and car boot sales (68%), convenience stores (27%) and newsagents (34%).

Pharmacy independents were identified in a report published by CTSI as having “high” levels of sales to under 18s, along with car boot sales and markets.

Overall, almost 40 per cent of retailers illegally sold nicotine e-cigarettes and vaping liquids to children and young people in the first national test purchase operation carried out since the regulations were introduced.

Compliance with the age-of-sale regulations was “disappointingly low”, said Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive.

“Trading standards teams “play a frontline role in preventing children from obtaining e-cigarettes and nicotine refills, just as they do with traditional tobacco products” and they will “not hesitate” to take enforcement action where it is appropriate to do so, he warned. Businesses may not have sufficient experience of challenging age restricted sales, he suggested.  

Regular use of these products among children is relatively rare, but children’s awareness of, and experimentation with electronic cigarettes, is increasing,” added Mr Livermore.

Commenting on the report, public health minister Nicola Blackwood said the report was “a timely reminder” of obligations under the regulations not to sell nicotine products to under 18 year olds. “We will continue to work with trade associations and trading standards to provide practical advice to businesses of all sizes and to promote compliance amongst the wider retail community,” she said.

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