Government to promise ‘enforcement squads’ for illegal vape sales to children

With tens of thousands of under-18s regularly vaping, a taskforce is being formed to stop the illegal sale of vapes, ITV News' Alex Iszatt reports

Ministers are expected to pledge a crackdown on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s with an “illicit vapes enforcement squad”.

The taskforce would conduct “test purchasing” at shops and share “intelligence” across regional networks and local authorities, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The government is also due to announce the launch of a call for evidence to identify other opportunities to reduce the number of children using vapes.

Underage vaping is on the rise, according to NHS figures. The number of 11 to 17-year-olds to try e-cigarettes stood at 6% in 2018, rising to 9% in 2021.

Over half of those (57%) said they'd bought the vapes themselves from shops.

The new enforcement squad - backed by £3 million in government funding - would also have the power to remove illegal products from shops and at borders.

The DHSC said the squads would be made up of a select team of trading standards officers, who investigate whether businesses are following the law.

In 2021, 9% of 11 to 17 year olds tried vaping, with 57% buying them themselves in shops, NHS figures show. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

Health minister Neil O’Brien said: “Smoking kills, so our priority is to prevent people smoking, and support them to quit. We remain committed to our ambition to be smoke-free by 2030.

“However, while vaping is a preferable alternative to smoking for adults, we are concerned about the rise in youth vaping, particularly the increasing use of disposable vaping products.

“The new illicit vapes enforcement squad will work across the country and clamp down on those businesses who sell vapes to children – which is illegal – and get them hooked on nicotine.

"Our Call for Evidence will also allow us to get a firm understanding of the steps we can take to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes.”

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Mr O’Brien is expected to outline the plans in a speech at Policy Exchange on Tuesday.

It comes as both the Tories and Labour put crime-fighting plans at the heart of their campaigns ahead of the local elections next month.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to put 13,000 police officers on the beat to help tackle rising levels of vandalism and antisocial behaviour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently announced a set of measures to crack down on antisocial behaviour, including a laughing gas ban, trials of swifter justice measures and increased policing in areas of England and Wales deemed to have high amounts of low-level crime.