Inside Britain’s child vaping epidemic: Our horrifying investigation exposes predatory tactics of sweet shops selling e-cigs, vibrant ‘dupes’ made to resemble Skittles and Jolly Ranchers… and the kids left scarred for life
- EXCLUSIVE: Our probe shows how vapes are being sold next to sweets
- Read more: Fruit and candy-flavoured vapes ‘could be BANNED’ by ministers
With shelves packed full of lollipops and chocolate, you’d be forgiven for assuming this was just a sweet shop.
Tucked away inside, and even brazenly advertised in some windows, lies something illegal for under-18s to buy. Vapes.
Incredibly vibrant shades of green, blue and pink adorn the huge display. Nearly all the e-cigs sold here are chemically-altered to taste funky, with flavours like Blue Razz Lemonade and Fairground Wizz, or are emblazoned with cartoon characters.
So why, if kids can’t legally go and buy vapes, are sweet shops selling them?
Today, what if flagyl doesnt work MailOnline exposes the predatory marketing tactics of vape retailers accused of preying on kids, with their pervasive schemes so successful that officials are now proposing an outright ban.
‘We are sleepwalking into an existential crisis for children’, warned Professor Andrew Bush, one of the country’s most renowned paediatric respirologists. He claimed our dossier was ‘scary’ proof firms are desperately trying to lure kids in, sentencing them to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
House of Candy in Oxford Street where half of the store is American sweets and the other has vapes up for sale in neon light displays
Also called Candy World, the Oxford Street store also has vapes advertised in the window
NHS Digital data shows the number of children who are current vapers has soared in recent years, jumping from 6 per cent in 2018 to 9 per cent in 2021
Our weeks-long investigation took us to Oxford Street, famed for its reputation as Europe’s busiest shopping hub, and home to brand flagship stores including Nike, Adidas and H&M.
Sweet shops litter the 1.2mile avenue, including some that have been investigated by the authorities over alleged tax evasion.
Two stores we visited sold vapes — House of Candy (also called Candy World) and Prime Candy.
Both had shelves cluttered with much-loved imported sweets and snacks, like Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers and Sour Apple Laffy Taffy.
But just metres away were flashing neon light e-cigarette displays, full of similarly-sounding flavoured vapes, such as Grape Apple, Blue Fruits and Bubblegum.
READ MORE: Fruit and candy-flavoured vapes ‘could be BANNED’ amid fears millions of children are getting hooked
Professor Bush, from Imperial College London, claims the marketing of these alongside sweets is ‘no coincidence’.
‘It is very clear all these flavourings are marketed at children,’ he told MailOnline.
‘The colourful displays and sexy advertisements on TikTok are clearly companies making a big play to get children to experiment with these things and it’s being successful. It’s scary.
‘What this is trying to do is to get a new generation of nicotine addicts so these products can be marketed.’
Our probe even revealed the sheer extent that some vape retailers are willing to go in order to capture the attention of kids — by boldly impersonating popular sweet and juice brands.
MailOnline discovered ‘dupe’ vapes mimicking Chupa Chups, Skittles, Jolly Rancher, Rubicon and Calypso, with near-identical branding to the popular sweets and drinks in other stores along Oxford Street and online.
Professor Bush condemned the predatory duplications, saying ‘anything that gives the impression these are harmless, child-friendly things is an outrageous attempt to prey upon children and young people’.
Prime Candy on Oxford Street, where MailOnline found huge vape displays alongside many different types of American sweets
The outside of Prime Candy shows half of the store window displays sweets, while the other side, which seems to have a different sign up despite being the same shop, has vapes on display
The outside of House of Candy shows large amounts of vapes advertised in the window, while the shop is packed with sweets
The outside of House of Candy shows the shop split in two, advertising American sweets on one side and vapes on the other
MailOnline discovered dupe vapes mimicking Chupa Chups, Skittles, Jolly Rancher, Rubicon and Calypso (pictured), with near-identical branding to the popular sweets and drinks in other stores along Oxford Street
While aimed at children the devices can reap a catastrophic toll on young people. Pictured here is Ewan Fisher at age 16 who spent weeks in intensive care after his lungs failed the night before he was due to start his GCSE exams due to an allergic reaction to vape chemicals
You can even purchase these dupe vapes, along with ones not seemingly aimed at kids, on Deliveroo.
While Deliveroo drivers may ID customers who order at the point of collection, a loophole of simply clicking a button to say you are over 18 also allows anyone to purchase these goods from websites.
MailOnline found this out first hand by, very easily, ordering a Skittles ‘dupe’ online from website Choppa Vapes.
Our expose captures, in fascinating detail, one of the key reasons as to why vaping rates are soaring in kids.
I went to the sweet shops… and experienced the ‘predatory’ retailers firsthand
Inside the eerily-quiet shops themselves, employees are ready to pounce on potential customers.
After kindly telling shop workers I didn’t need help, they hovered over my shoulder, intensely watching me browse the hundreds of products on offer.
In an exchange that seemed innocent to begin with, I was asked my age.
A usual question for purchasing a vape – which is supposedly illegal for kids to buy, I thought.
However his predatory intentions soon became obvious.
‘Beautiful young girls have to pay £5 just for looking in the shop,’ he said.
‘So do other people not have to pay?’ I quipped back. ‘Or is it just what you call beautiful young women?’
He replied: ‘Let me guess your age. You look young but I think you are older. Do you prefer to be called a beautiful girl or a lady? How old do you think I am?’
This was, quite clearly, not about whether I was old enough to purchase a vape.
Shock NHS data shows almost one in 10 secondary pupils are regular vapers, double the proportion in 2014.
And as many as 30 per cent of under-18s in some region have used the devices, according to statistics.
As well as the child-friendly flavours and colours, experts have also blamed social media for glamourizing the devices in recent years.
TikTok and Instagram are also awash with individuals offering to sell the gadgets to children.
Discreet postage and packaging, including hiding them in boxes of chocolates to throw parents off the scent, is routinely on offer.
Professor Bush said that the ‘acute damage’ caused by vaping is ‘much greater than can be done with cigarettes’.
‘Kids have been in intensive care and people have died from it,’ he said. ‘It’s rare, thankfully, but it happens.
‘We don’t know about the long term effects of vapes because they haven’t been around for long enough, but I can’t think of any biologically sensible model where inhaling a lot of hot chemicals into your lungs is anything other than a bad idea.’
He added: ‘Vapes should be being treated exactly like tobacco in terms of legislation. All colourings and flavourings should be absolutely banned, at least in my view, and that would make a huge difference.’
Soaring vaping rates have prompted experts to warn that Britain is ‘sleepwalking’ into a public health crisis.
Despite the devices being widely viewed as safer than smoking, the long-term effects remain a mystery and doctors fear a wave of lung disease and even cancer in the coming decades among those who took up the habit at a young age.
Ewan Fisher, whose lungs failed aged 16 due to vaping, blamed the fruity flavours for his addiction, claiming they ‘entice children’.
He is just one of the countless kids to have been scarred by the e-cig epidemic.
The now 19-year-old, from Nottingham, was left with the ‘lungs of an 80-year-old lifelong smoker’ according to doctors, after vaping for just six months in an attempt to give up cigarettes.
And Rosey Christoffersen died three days before her 19th birthday in 2015. Her mother blames her death, which occurred when both of her lungs collapsed, on her excessive vaping habit
MailOnline has been told that e-cigarette use is so rife in schools there has been an increase in fire engine callouts because so many pupils are vaping in toilets. Teenagers told this website they suffer regular coughing fits and have to use inhalers to breathe properly after just a year of regular e-cigarette use
Disposable vapes flavoured like sweets and fruits which are targeted towards teenagers could soon be banned (file photo)
Experts are growing increasingly concerned child-friendly flavours and bright colours make the products more appealing to children
While vape industry officials have called for tighter regulation, they still support vaping as smoking cessation.
John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said: ‘Vaping has a critical role to play in stopping smoking.
‘Over 200 people die every day in the UK from smoking related illness; vaping is already reducing this number as the proven best way for people to quit.’
But on the predatory marketing tactics of ‘rogue retailers’, he added: ‘There is absolutely no place for using sweet brands on vape products and we absolutely condemn such practice.
‘Young people should not be vaping and we are urging the Government to do more to limit under-18s access to vaping through rogue retailers, while also ensuring we allow smokers to give up effectively.’
The earliest iterations of e-cigarettes emerged around 2007, with the first ones made mostly in China.
Now every high street in the country has a designated shop, where e-cigs costing as little as £5 are paraded.
This is despite some containing as much nicotine as up to 50 cigarettes, including Britain’s most popular vape, the China-made Elf Bar 600.
Experts have stressed their concern at children not being fully aware of the contents of e-cigarettes, with many so anxious for their next ‘fix’ they are begging teachers to let them vape at school
E-cigarettes allow users to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. They work by heating liquid that contains nicotine and flavourings.
This doesn’t burn tobacco or produce tar or carbon monoxide like with traditional cigarettes, and is and why they are deemed healthier than smoking.
They can come as vape pens — shaped like a small tube with a tank to store e-liquid and batteries — or pod systems that are rechargeable, resembling USB sticks.
But despite being highly addictive, the gadgets don’t need to be hidden behind shutters like tobacco products.
When approached by MailOnline, House of Candy said that all youngsters are age-checked when buying vapes, adding that less come to the store now as they can buy them easily online for much cheaper.
The spokesperson disagreed with the idea that selling vapes in candy shops could encourage children to purchase them, adding that many shops on Oxford Street sell the products.
A Deliveroo spokesperson said their platform is only to be used by over 18s and that its riders will always ask a customer for their ID before handing over orders which contains age restricted items.
Prime Candy refused to comment.
From ‘Skitle’ to ‘Choopa Choops’: How ruthless e-cig manufacturers are luring kids in with near-identical sweets branding
At first glance, it resembles a lollipop brand beloved by Brits for decades.
But take a closer look and you’ll see that, rather than being a Chupa Chups, it is, in fact, a vape masquerading as one.
And it’s not the only one attempting to capitalise on popular confectionery.
Our investigation discovered ‘dupes’ of Chupa Chups, Jolly Rancher, Calypso and Rubicon — all on Oxford Street. Similar ones are also sold for as little as £5 online.
Our investigation found dupes of Chupa Chups, Jolly Rancher, Calypso and Rubicon – all on Oxford Street
Yet vapes are also sold for as little as £5 elsewhere, with a Skittles dupe purchased online
Choopa Choops (Chupa Chups)
One of the most clever dupes, Choopa Choops has near-identical branding to Chupa Chups.
The ‘Pink Lemonad’ vape was sold for just £10.
It is deceptively emblazoned with the same yellow flower logo and pink outline as the lollipop brand, as well near-identical font.
And the wholesaler that distributes Choopa Choops vapes, Yark London Limited, have form for selling imitations.
A shop in Southall, owned by the same firm, was caught distributing fake designer face masks, claiming to be brands such as Versace, Gucci and Burberry.
The Pink Lemonad Choopa Choops vape was discovered at London City Souvenirs on Oxford Street, where it was being sold for £10
One of the most alarming dupes, Choopa Choops has near-identical branding to Chupa Chups (pictured)
READ MORE: Chris Whitty says officials must do ‘everything we can’ to stamp out child e-cig use as he attacks ‘appalling’ marketing tactics
Owner Ulgeet Singh was fined £15,232 after pleading guilty to ten charges of possessing goods with a false trade mark with the intention to sell.
Other Choopa Choops vapes are sold elsewhere too, though it is not known if they all come from the same supplier or if other manufacturers are utilizing the same tactics.
Jolly Ranger (Jolly Rancher)
They’re a firm favourite of American sweet lovers.
Jolly Rancher mimic vapes were found being sold in two places by MailOnline, one of which was a ‘gift and luggage’ shop.
This Red Power Jolly Ranger e-cigarette, distributed by North East Vape wholesaler in Sunderland, cost £9.99.
Another flavour, called Cotton Candy Ice, was a similar price.
Jolly Rancher mimic vapes were found being sold in two places on Oxford Street by MailOnline, one of which was a ‘gift and luggage’ shop called Imperial. This Red Power Jolly (pictured) Ranger e-cigarette, was distributed by North East Vape wholesaler in Sunderland and cost £9.99.
The second vape, Cotton Candy Ice (pictured), was purchased from London City Souvenirs for £10
According to the product, the distributor is based in Oldham, Greater Manchester on what appears to be an industrial estate, but a company name could not be found.
Jolly Ranger vapes can also be purchased from multiple vape shops online for as little as £2.99.
Skittles are a firm favourite among British children and adults alike when it comes to chewy sweets.
But the multicoloured treats were another famous confectionary brand to fall victim to vape impersonation.
MailOnline bought a Skitle vape, in a flavour called Brightside, online.
Costing just £4.99 initially, the vape totalled £10.98 with shipping. It was also found to have come from North East Vape wholesaler.
MailOnline bought this Skitle vape, in a flavour called Brightside, online from e-cigarette store Choppa Vapes
Skittles are a firm favourite when it comes to chewy sweets but the multi-coloured treats were another company to fall victim to brand impersonation
Another sneaky dupe e-cig found by MailOnline is a rip-off of drink brand Rubicon.
The marketing of Rubison Bar is near-identical to the popular juice. It has the same blue oval and white writing with a flower above the letter ‘i’ and a multicoloured bird in the corner.
Purchased for £10, the only branding difference between the drink and the vape is the substitution of the letter ‘c’ for ‘s’.
This vape claims to be distributed by Rubison Bar, located in a Birmingham industrial estate, however no evidence of this company could be found online.
Rubison vapes can also be bought online for just £3.99.
Another sneaky dupe e-cig found by MailOnline appears to be a rip-off of drink brand Rubicon
The marketing of Rubison Bar is near-identical to the popular juice (pictured). It has the same blue oval and white writing with a flower above the letter I and a multicoloured bird in the corner
A popular American juice drink, Calypso fruit juice is also sold in sweet stores across the UK.
But this imported drink has also been replicated by vape companies through a knock-off called Caliypso.
We bought a disposable Caliypso Strawberry Lemonade vape for £9.99.
The disposable vape was found to have come from the same distributor as both the Skitle and Jolly Ranger e-cigarettes – North East Vapes wholesaler.
A popular American juice drink, Calypso fruit juice is sold in sweet stores across the UK, but this imported drink has also been replicated by vape companies – called Caliypso
A popular American juice drink, Calypso fruit juice is sold in sweet stores across the UK
Revealed: Meet the child victims of England’s vaping epidemic
As evidence mounts on how vapes are being marketed towards children, MailOnline looked at those youngsters left scarred by the devices.
Now 19, Tom Padley, from Putney, London, has been using vapes since he was just 13.
He told MailOnline he picked up the habit in boarding school and how they fact that could be used indoors was considerably advantage.
‘It’s not like cigarettes, where you would have to find a place to go outside and do it you can just do it non-stop indoors,’ he said.
‘It’s such an insane amount of nicotine when you’re that young especially.’
Tom Padley, pictured here when he was 16, said he is angry he was able to get vapes so easily as a kid and now suffers health complications from his nicotine addiction
Tom said he got hold of the devices either by ordering them online where they arrived in ‘nondescript packaging’ or knowing which shops wouldn’t ask for ID.
He added that the fruity and sweet flavour options of vapes made them specifically more attractive to kids.
‘Some kids wouldn’t get into smoking because they purely can’t handle the gross sort of sick smell,’ he said.
‘But it’s pretty easy to get into nicotine and fit in with other smokers, if you think that image is kind of cool, if you’re only tasting strawberries.’
And he said that only six years into vaping he was already experiencing health problems.
‘I get ill a lot more. I get ulcers occasionally in my mouth. I have a lot of coughs. I guarantee it’s massively increased due to vaping,’ he said.
And despite that he still finds himself unable to kick the habit, trapped by his addiction.
‘You get a bit sketchy, all you can think about is you want it, you’re just a bit on edge, anxious. Your whole body is telling you that’s what you want right now,’ he said.
Tom said he was angry that he was able to get vapes so easily as a kid and said that in his opinion they were definitely being marketed to children.
He told MailOnline his vaping use was so high he would rapidly burn through e-cigs ending up with piles of the disposable versions
‘The brand JUUL was very sort of marketed to be like a USB and very sleek and subtle,’ he said.
‘The whole thing amongst students is you could plug a JUUL into your laptop and teachers wouldn’t even notice it right there.’
‘Flavours called fairground fizz or stuff like that – what adult would that be marketed to?
‘I think they thought they needed to go to the next generation because they are gullible, they’ll buy and once they’re addicted they’re addicted.’
Another former vaper Ewan Fisher, 19, from Nottingham, has been left with the lungs of an 80-year-old smoker after vaping for just six months.
At just 16 he spent weeks in intensive care after his lungs failed the night before he was due to start his GCSE exams.
He had originally picked up vaping in an attempt to give up cigarettes.
But he ended fighting to survive for 10 weeks in hospital at one point needed to be put on an artificial lung.
Ewan Fisher, 19, from Nottingham, has been left with the lungs of an 80-year-old lifelong smoker after vaping for just six months in an attempt to give up cigarettes. Pictured left before he started vaping before and right now
The then 16-year-old needed an artificial lung to survive and spent 10 weeks in hospital as doctors fought to save his life
Despite being under age at the time, Ewan said ‘it was easy’ to buy either cigarettes or e-cigarettes in his home city in 2017.
‘The flavours are really addictive,’ he said. ‘When I went into the hospital they took my vape and I was vaping blue flush (blackberry flavour) and I had a rhubarb and custard one too.
‘It’s that sort of stuff that got me addicted. Those sweet flavours are addictive and they entice young people.’
Ewan is believed to have suffered an exaggerated immune response to chemicals found in e-cigarette fluid.
READ MORE: Vape addict, 20, who fell asleep cradling her e-cig reveals she has ‘popcorn lung’ after being warned she’d need an oxygen tank before turning 30
He said: ‘They tried telling me that I’d make a full recovery, but it’s nearly four years on and I still really struggle.
‘I used to be really healthy. I can’t run, I really struggle up hills. It’s ruined all my joints. My life’s changed massively.
And the mother of teenager Rosey Christoffersen, who died after her lungs collapsed, believes e-cigarettes were the cause, according to The Guardian.
Rosey had been an occasional smoker but then started using flavoured vapes, and then quickly became addicted.
Rosey’s mother Rachel Howe, 45, of The Wirral, said: ‘There would be coconut, cherry, bubble-gum vapes. It was constantly in her mouth.’
She said her daughter would buy them from the local corner shop.
The 18-year-old began to experience pain in her chest as well as exhaustion but her GP said the cause was likely a pulled muscle.
But she later the teenager collapsed in the street on February 14, 2015 – three days before her 19th birthday.
Both of her lungs had collapsed and she was brain dead by the time she arrived at hospital.
Mrs Howe is convinced vaping caused her daughter’s death.
And another mum, Holly Smith’s had her 11-year-old daughter rushed to hospital after the young girl used a vape last year.
Miss Smith, 29, knew something was wrong when she found her daughter extremely lethargic and almost unable to stand.
Miss Smith said she knew her daughter had ‘taken something’ and called an ambulance to take her to Gorleston’s James Paget University Hospital.
The vape was allegedly purchased by another child for just £8.
In Yarmouth, where Miss Smith lives, there have been multiple complaints about traders involving under-age vape sales, including three about the same trader, according to Trading Standards at Norfolk County Council.
Map lays bare England’s child vaping epidemic: How a THIRD of kids have tried e-cigs in some regions
England’s child vaping epidemic has been laid bare by a fascinating map showing how a third of kids have used e-cigarettes in some parts of the country.
Rates have more than doubled in under a decade, in a trend fuelled by TikTok and predatory marketing, experts say.
NHS data for 2021 demonstrates the alarming number of under 18s who have vaped, as companies face backlash over their child-friendly, colourful marketing.
Data, crunched by this website, suggests girls are driving the worrying trend.
The region with the highest amount of child vapers, with 30 per cent having used one of the device, was Yorkshire and the Humber.
NHS Digital data, based on the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England survey for the year 2021, showed 30 per cent of children in Yorkshire and the Humber have used a vape
The data was was based on the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England survey for the year 2021.
It saw more than 9,000 pupils from 100-plus schools quizzed on their habits making it the latest and most comprehensive NHS data on the subject.
Children could choose from a number of options regarding their vape use, including if they were a regular, occasional or ex e-cigarette user, that they had tried using one just once, or had never used one.
The region with the second highest amount of child vapers was the North West – where 29 per cent had ever vaped and 12 per cent were current e-cigarette users.
READ MORE: Up to a THIRD of vapes sold on high street are illegal, Trading Standards warns
London and the East Midlands had the joint lowest numbers of child vapers (15 per cent).
The data also revealed a gender divide in vaping with almost twice as many girls as boys using the devices in parts of the country.
This trend was starkest in the North East – with 30 per cent of girls having used a vape compared to just 18 per cent of boys.
On a nationwide level, one in four girls have used vapes compared to just under one in five boys.
Teenage girls were previously found to also be more likely to smoke ordinary cigarettes than boys. Experts are not sure why this is but one suggestion is that as girls mature earlier than boys they are quicker to adopt adult habits.
Why I’m deeply disturbed by child vaping crisis – DR MIKE HEATH, eminent paediatrician, fears generation of kids will become addicted to nicotine
By Dr Mike McKean, vice president of policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
As a respiratory paediatrician I am deeply disturbed in the rise of children and young people picking up e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes remain a relatively new product and their long-term effects are still unknown.
Vaping is far from risk free and in many cases can be very addictive.
It is even more concerning to hear that there is an increase in unregulated e-cigarettes hitting the UK market.
In the north-east of England, where I practice medicine, more than 1.4 tonnes of illegal e-cigarettes were seized from shops in the second half of last year.
Trading Standards tell us that in many cases these e-cigarettes are indistinguishable from regulated products.
It’s impossible to know what these products contain or how they might impact young people’s health.
The thought that these products are ending up in the hands of children is terrifying.
Dr Mike McKean, vice president of policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
We know for a fact that vaping among secondary-school children is rising, with nearly one in five 15-year-olds using e-cigarettes in 2021, according to NHS Digital.
Among 11-15-year-olds, 9 per cent say they are vapers – this is up from 6 per cent in 2018.
It’s clear that children and young people are being targeted by e-cigarette companies with bright packaging, exotic flavours and enticing names.
These products are affordable, appealing and clearly very accessible for children and young people.
I have worked as a respiratory consultant for 21 years, so it is not lost on me that smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and disease in the UK.
Cigarettes are the one legal consumer product that if used regularly will seriously harm and kill most of their users.
READ MORE: Young vapers are up to TWICE as likely to suffer depression, anxiety or panic attacks than non-users, according to ANOTHER damning study
We know this because we have 60+ years of research and data on cigarette use on a population level.
But the research and data around widespread e-cigarette use is still very much in its infancy.
We simply don’t know enough.
We must make every effort to stop children and young people picking up and using these products.
It is time for the UK Government to act by introducing plain packaging of e-cigarettes and nicotine and non-nicotine e-liquids packs.
Tighter restrictions on advertising of vaping products are also needed to ensure these products are only advertised as a smoking reduction aid rather than a fun and colourful lifestyle product.
We’re seeing a solid decline in smoking rates among children and young people, we cannot let vaping undo this good work.
If action is not taken soon, we run the risk of having generations of children addicted to nicotine.
Elf bars over nicotine limit still sold 10 months after company exposed
By Tom Kelly, Investigations Editor for the Daily Mail
Britain’s leading vape supplier was allowed to continue selling devices over the nicotine liquid limit for ten months after a warning from the health watchdog, the Mail can reveal.
Elf Bar was told by the government regulator in May 2022 that its 600 vape – which sold 2.5 million a week – was alleged to have breached laws which were introduced to protect children.
The watchdog sent another warning three months later, but the Chinese manufacturer failed to respond to the claims and continued to supply the device to major supermarkets and stores around the UK.
Incredibly, no action was taken until February, when the vape was finally pulled from British shelves after independent tests carried out by the Mail revealed they were up to 50 per cent over the legal nicotine liquid limit.
Health experts branded the delay ‘horrific’ and said it appeared the Daily Mail was doing a better job of policing illegal vapes than the government’s own regulator.
They warned the delay in acting is particularly concerning given Elf Bars’ bright packaging and sweet flavours which make them very popular with children, even though it is illegal to sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18.
Major supermarkets also pulled Elf Bar’s Lost Mary – the UK’s second best-selling disposable vape – after a second Mail investigation found it was up to 80 per cent over the legal nicotine liquid limit.
The amount of nicotine liquid in a vape is legally limited in the UK to 2ml, of which the maximum nicotine strength should be two per cent.
The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 says the strict limit was brought in to create ‘an environment that protects children from starting to use these products’.
But safety officials from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MRHA) wrote to Elf Bar in May 13, 2022 following a complaint that the tank on the Elf Bar 600 – which accounted for two thirds of disposable vapes sold in the UK at the time – exceeded the 2ml legal limit.
When it received no answer, the watchdog wrote again on August 3, 2022, but again Elf Bar failed to provide a requested response to address the complaint.
Details of the previous correspondence emerged in a third letter, sent in February by the MHRA’s e-cigarette Unit and Safety and Surveillance Team to Elf Bar CEO Victor Xiao, after the Mail independently exposed the manufacturer for breaching nicotine levels.
This time the watchdog noted that after the Mail investigation, Elf Bar had ‘immediately stopped all production and shipment to UK for all Elf Bar 600 and other products that may be affected.’
It also belatedly ordered Elf Bar to provide a response to the two previous complaints about the breach from 2022.
Andrew Bush, professor of paediatrics at Imperial College London, said: ‘I’m very shocked.
‘It’s horrifying that regulator had this information for ten months but action was only taken as a result of the Daily Mail investigation, not because of its own information.
‘And it’s absolutely disgraceful that simply because they did not receive a response from Elf Bar they allowed it to carry on selling these vapes in the UK.
‘This is especially worrying as these vapes are so popular with children.
‘It would seem it’s not the case that the government regulator is regulating the vape industry. The Daily Mail is doing a better job at the moment.’
More than half of the 11 to 17-year-olds who admitted trying vaping said they used an Elf Bar, around 100,000 young people, anti-smoking group Ash found last year.
Vape manufacturers must register details of new products –including nicotine liquid level and strength – with the MHRA before they can be sold in the UK.
But this is a self-certification and the MHRA does not carry out any tests on the product during this registration.
If it subsequently finds the product is breaking the law, it tries to get the manufacturer to change and if this fails it can notify Trading Standards who can organise a product recall.
The MHRA declined to say if it had alerted Trading Standards after the initial complaint about Elf Bar 600s in 2022.
Dr Laura Squire, the MHRA’s Chief Healthcare Quality and Access Officer, said: ‘We continue to support regional and national UK enforcement agencies and trade bodies in their activity to remove illicit e-cigarette products from the market.’
Elf Bar said it had now responded to the MHRA about the problems with its vape and regarded the letter from the MHRA, which was put online by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, as referring to ‘historic events’.
It added: ‘We are surprised and disappointed that what we believed to be private correspondence recording our actions to bring products into compliance in the UK seems to have become a matter for the public record.’
Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes
How much nicotine is in an e-cigarette?
There are many different brands of e-cigarettes, containing various different nicotine levels.
The legal amount of nicotine in an e-liquid capacity in the UK is 20mg/ml equating to between 600 and 800 puffs.
The Elf Bar 600, one of Britain’s most popular vapes, is advertised as coming in nicotine strengths of 0mg, 10mg and 20mg.
How many cigarettes are ‘in’ an e-cigarette?
The Elf Bar 600 contains the equivalent to 48 cigarettes, analysts say.
It delivers 600 puffs before it needs to be thrown away, meaning, in theory, every 12.5 puffs equate to one cigarette.
Experts say for many e-cigarettes, 100 puffs equate to ten normal cigarettes.
Elf Bars are a brand of e-cigarettes often sold in snazzy colours and with child-friendly names and flavours, like blue razz lemonade and green gummy bear
Is vaping better for your health than cigarettes?
Vaping products are considered to be better than cigarettes as users are exposed to fewer toxins and at lower levels, according to the NHS.
The health service adds that vaping instead of smoking cigarettes reduces your exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease and diseases of the heart and circulation, such as strokes and heart attacks.
Public Health England, which is now defunct, published an expert independent review in 2015 concluding that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.
However vaping is not risk-free, as while levels in tobacco-products are much higher, e-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.
And Dr Onkar Mudhar, a London dentist who posts videos on TikTok, said Elf bars can cause gum inflammation, swelling and bleeding.
He said this is because nicotine dries out your mouth and reduces saliva, causing irritation from a build-up of bacteria and food that can’t get washed away.
Nearly 350 hospitalisations due to vaping were logged in England in 2022, which are thought to be mainly down to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, lung inflammation and, in severe cases, respiratory failure.
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