Thousands of illegal vapes have been seized by officers investigating the sale of over-strength products.
More than £37,000 worth of illegal vapes and cigarettes were seized from four traders in Darlington as part of an operation following a rise in complaints about the sale of vapes to children as young as 12 in the town.
Darlington Borough Council said more than 2,200 illegal, over-strength vapes were seized, ranging from 2,500 puffs to 10,000.
A 3,500 puff vape is approximately equivalent to smoking 280 cigarettes.
Trading standards officers from the council, along with Durham Police officers visited Puff Puff Vape in the Cornmill Centre; Brinkburn Stores, in Brinkburn Road; Food Plus, in North Road and Neasham Road Mini Market.
Shaun Trevor, who led the operation on behalf of the council’s trading standards team, said: “If you sell illegal vapes, especially to children, then expect a visit from us.
"It is clear from the bright colours and designs that these products are being aimed at children. The seizure of illegal vapes hits these traders in the pocket.
“We encourage residents to report any concerns about any suspected illegal products. We take complaints seriously and will investigate them all and take action where appropriate.
“In the North East of England alone, more than 1.4 tonnes of illegal vapes were seized from shops in the second half of last year.”
The reasons for vapes being illegal include:
Retailers selling vapes from brands that have not been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Vapes carrying over the legal 2ml tank size. A vape pen should provide no more than 600-800 puffs.
Carrying illegal ingredients. The highest nicotine strength for vapes is two per cent. The nicotine liquid should not contain any additives or ingredients such as caffeine or taurine.
Carrying the wrong health warning. All vape products containing nicotine should have the following health warning "This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance" covering 30 per cent of the front and back of the packet.
Vapes should not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
Cllr Mike Renton, cabinet member for stronger communities, said: “What people don’t realise, when they think they are bagging a bargain on these cheaper vapes or cigarettes, is that they are not only funding organised crime, but they are also hurting honest traders in the town who lose business to illegal sales elsewhere.”
Inspector Peter Newman, from Durham Police, said: “Illicit and dangerous tobacco can not only cause serious harm to people’s health, but the proceeds are often invested into organised crime and can help fund more serious offences.
“This joint operation was carried out as a result of intelligence gathered by our officers and would not have been possible without the support of local people who have come forward with valuable pieces of information.
“If you have information regarding potential criminality in your community, please report it to us.”
Last year, Darlington Trading Standards and Durham Police confiscated 489 illegal vapes, 19,580 cigarettes and 7.65 kilograms of rolling tobacco between 30 November and 5 December.
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