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Illegal tobacco, e-cigarettes and shisha

e-cigarettes (vapes) and e-shisha products

These vaporise a liquid containing a solvent, chemical flavourings and/or nicotine. This vapour is then inhaled by the user via a disposable or re-usable ‘pen’ or ‘stick’. The vaporisation is achieved by a heated element powered by a battery. Re-usable devices are usually larger and can be re-charged via a USB connection.

It is illegal to sell nicotine inhaling products to anyone under the age of 18. This includes cartridges and refills containing nicotine

There have been concerns that vaping products are packaged and branded in a way which appeals to children even though nicotine-based products cannot be sold to those under 18. The liquids may be formulated with sweet smelling chemicals that create fruit flavours such as strawberry, apple, peach or grape. Popular food and drink brand names are also misused on some illegal products.

There have also been safety concerns about the chemicals they contain and the electrical safety of the devices – especially the chargers supplied with them.

User advice

  • although new regulations now apply to e-cigarettes containing nicotine there is still uncertainty as to how safe vaping is, for example, in terms of the e-liquids used containing solvents, flavourings and other chemicals
  • nicotine is a powerful poison - there's a specific risk of death to young children who come into contact with ‘e-liquids’ containing nicotine, and certain warning labels must be present
  • young children are naturally inquisitive and will copy adult behaviour, so take the same precautions as with household cleaners, liquitabs and medicines and keep well out of the reach of children
  • parents or carers of under 18s shouldn't allow children to use e-cigarettes or e-shisha
  • schools shouldn't permit such products on their grounds and should discourage their use

The law

  • electrical products must comply with safety regulations
  • mains chargers must only have approved UK 3 pin plugs
  • products containing certain chemicals, including nicotine, must be labelled and packaged in accordance with health and safety regulations
  • the sale of nicotine inhaling products to a person aged under 18 is prohibited
  • adults commit an offence if they purchase a nicotine inhaling product for someone under 18
  • e-cigarettes and refills containing nicotine must comply with the tobacco products directive -this sets down standards for safety and quality and information to consumers
For business guidance on e-cigarettes visit GOV.UK website

Page last updated: 17 May 2023

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