Oxfordshire County Council logo

E-cigarettes, vape pens and 'puff bars'

Advice to businesses about e-cigarettes and vaping

There has been a nationwide increase in the use of disposable e-cigarettes throughout 2021 and 2022. These devices are often referred to as “puff bars” or “vape pens” and there are now a wide variety of brands on sale across Oxfordshire.

However, whilst some of these products comply with UK law governing these products, many do not. The illegal products are sometimes stock intended for sale in the USA, where the limits on the device's strength and size are higher. Alternatively, they are products that meet the UK limit on size and strength but have been rushed onto the market without their packaging meeting UK standards or being registered and approved by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Since August 2021 thousands of these devices have been seized by Oxfordshire Trading Standards to prevent them from being sold or returning to the UK supply chain. This can result in retailers incurring losses if they are not able to recover the money they paid for the stock from their supplier. Accordingly, the advice below is being provided to ensure that retailers are both selling safe, legal products and that they are not left out of pocket by an unscrupulous supplier.

What to look out for as a retailer

The top five things for retailers to check before buying or selling these products are:

  1. The nicotine content is 2% (or 20mg/ml in liquid form) or below;
  2. The size of the tank is 2ml or below;
  3. That the size is not only given in “puffs” – anything exceeding 800 puffs may be over-sized but this is not made clear by some manufacturers;
  4. That there is a UK address for an importer, manufacturer or other responsible body; and
  5. That the “toxic” warning symbol is displayed for devices with a nicotine content of 1.7% to 2.0% and that a raised tactile warning is also on the box/packet.

More detailed advice can be found in the e-cigarettes detailed advice document (pdf format, 173Kb)

Products to avoid as a retailer and consumer

All of the products shown in the document below cannot be made compliant with UK law and will be seized by Trading Standards if found on sale.

Further advice

The following websites provide more guidance for retailers on how to ensure that the products they sell are compliant with UK law:

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) and the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) will also provide information to members.

Underage sales

E-cigarettes, and in particular disposable devices, are becoming increasingly popular amongst children. A recent survey carried out by the charity ASH found that vaping among children 11-17 was up from 4% in 2020, around the time of the first lockdown, to 7% in 2022. This survey also found that disposables are now the most used product among current young vapers, up from 7% in 2020 to 52% in 2022, with Geek Bar and Elf Bar overwhelmingly the most popular brands.

It is therefore extremely important that retailers ensure that they have a system in place to prevent the sale of age-restricted products to children. The core components of such a system are:

  • Staff training: You should make sure all your staff receives adequate training on underage sales, record when this training took place and make sure the training is regularly updated.
  • Signage and store layout: You should keep your age-restricted products where they can be monitored by staff and ensure you have adequate signs to inform consumers of the minimum legal age to purchase them.
  • Age verification checks and challenge 25/Think 21: All staff should verify the age of potential buyers by asking to see an identity card that bears the PASS hologram (the Proof of Age Standards Scheme) or a driver’s licence or passport. Other forms of ID are acceptable, for example, military ID cards, but staff must be confident that they can identify what a real one of these IDs should look like before accepting them. We would also recommend that you adopt Challenge 25 as it gives the most protection to you & your business. By allowing a larger margin of error in terms of evaluating someone’s age for ID checks it is far less likely that a sale will be made to someone under the age of 18.
  • Refusals register: You should keep and maintain a refusals register. This means keeping a record (date, time, incident, description of potential buyer) where sales of age-restricted products have been refused. This helps to demonstrate that you actively refuse sales and have an effective system in place.
  • Till prompts/Reminders at Point Of Sale: If your till can be programmed to do so you can use prompts that appear on the till screen when an age-restricted product is scanned to remind staff to carry out age verification checks. If this is not possible on your current till system then there are simple low-tech alternatives such as adding a coloured reminder sticker to your age-restricted products to act as a visual reminder to staff.

Useful links

  • https://www.proofofage.org.uk/ – This is an online interactive toolkit provided by Trading Standards South West. Details of the training & resources included with membership can be found on their website and the cost of joining for a small business is just £30 + VAT.
  • https://noidnosale.com/ - You can get free refusals registers, posters and window stickers from the “No ID, No Sale” website either in downloadable pdf form or a “retailer pack” can be sent to you in the post.
  • https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/underage-sales - This is a basic guide on underage sales law but there are also in-depth guides for specific age-restricted products available on this website too.