Vaping: Undercover footage reveals shops selling vapes to underage teenagers in Wales

  • Watch the moment a 15-year-old is sold an e-cigarette

Undercover footage that shows a “worrying trend” of teenagers being sold vapes underage has been exposed by ITV News. 

The e-cigarette industry is worth £1 billion - and selling them to anyone under the age of 18 is illegal, and can carry a fine of up to £2,500. 

Secret filming by ITV News showed the moment two shops in west Wales were caught on camera selling vapes to a 15-year-old girl without asking for age or ID. 

As part of the investigation by Welsh language current affairs programme Y Byd Ar Bedwar, the footage shows teenager is seen entering the shops and approaching the counter. She enquires about the different flavours available and is served the items without hesitation.

Both owners apologised and said they had put measures in place to ensure it did not happen again in the future.

The vaping industry is worth £1bn

  • What is a vape?

Vapes are electronic devices that let you inhale nicotine in a vapour instead of smoke. This is done by heating a solution (e-liquid) that typically contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavourings and nicotine.

Trading Standards said it was "concerned" with what the filming showed.

Fair Trading Officer Thomas Clack said: “Whenever a sale is made to a child, that’s extremely concerning. These are age restricted products and it’s an offence for shops to sell them to children under 18.

“We’ve seen a significant increase over the past couple of years in reports being made by the general public - people that are concerned about shops selling them and are reporting them to us.

“That’s quite a worrying trend and something that we’re really keen to reverse.”

A recent study showed the number of people vaping in 2022 had almost trebled from the year before

Last year a study showed that the number of young people vaping in 2022 had almost trebled to 44% - up from 15% the previous year - and there are concerns that some children are becoming addicted.While vaping and e-cigarettes have been widely promoted as a tool to help people give up smoking, there is an indication that young people who have never smoked before are taking it up. It is often seen as a healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes but Dr Amira Guiguis, a pharmacist, drug detection expert and Professor at Swansea University’s Medical School, told ITV Cymru Wales that it’s “not risk free”.

She said: “In the liquid you can find very ultra fine particles that can go deep down in the lungs. You can have metals, you can see other chemicals and volatile substances.”

Meanwhile, Dr Guiguis has warned that nicotine in vapes can affect brain development.“The use of nicotine leads to addiction. That means that if these e-cigarettes that contain nicotine are used by children or young adults, this can affect the brain structure and the brain development - especially if we’re talking about individuals with developmental vulnerabilities," she said.

She continued: “This means that there is a potential for these children and young people to develop addictive behaviours and develop the potential for misuse of substances when they grow up and some studies show that some of these children may smoke cigarettes when they grow up.”

  • "Loads of my friends do it"

ITV News spoke to a 14-year-old boy who started vaping when he was 12.

“I first started vaping in the summer of 2021, around year 9,” he said.

“Loads of my friends do it and I got peer pressured into trying it too. I tried it and I liked it but I didn't know if I should be doing it because it’s dangerous.

“I think the attraction for vaping with anyone is the flavours and like the colours and the designs of the vapes.” 

This teenager said he felt peer-pressured into vaping

He said that buying vapes underage wasn’t a problem for him. 

“It’s quite easy to be honest, because there’s many shops that would sell to you. I’ve been in (to one) with my school uniform quite a few times and they’ve just said put it in your pocket as you're walking out. No questions. That shop has been caught a few times and they still haven’t stopped.”

The boy, who asked to remain anonymous, said he understands the dangers of vaping but it would not stop him at the moment. 

He quit vaping for a fortnight last year but restarted so that he felt like he fitted in with his friends.

Dr Guiguis said that, given the limited research on the effects of vaping, she would like to see flavours restricted to stop the appeal of vaping.She added: “If we think that e-vaping is much safer than tobacco smoking especially in the population of children I don't think this is totally true because many studies found that there are discrepancies where for example the e-cigarettes were advertised as nicotine free but in fact they were found to contain very high amounts of nicotine."  

“So vaping can be a carrier for more harmful content than we expect, more harmful content that's not claimed on the label.”

Working alongside S4C's Y Byd ar Bedwar programme, ITV Cymru Wales investigated the sale of vapes to children under the age of 18

  • "There’s not a teenager I don’t know that doesn’t vape"

The boy's mother told ITV News she was "worried" about her son’s habit.

She said: “The shops are selling them to him and if the shops we live by don’t, then he’ll go to an area that will."

“There’s not a teenager I don’t know that doesn’t vape. They’re aimed at the kids, the colours of them, the names of them, there’s some that are like a can of pop with a straw. 

“Don’t tell me they’re aimed at adults. They’re affordable and if you’re the only one in the group that doesn’t vape you’re kind of the odd one out.”

The boy's mother said there wasn't a teenager she "didn't know that doesn't vape" Credit: PA Images

“They just appeal to their age group. If you can’t see them in the shops and they’re not in their full stock I think you stand half a chance of the kids not getting hold of them.”

Dr Guirguis said she'd like for key stakeholders, including the government, to be more educated on the matter.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Reports indicating an increase in use of these products by young people are very concerning. As part of our strategy to deliver a smoke-free Wales by 2030, we are looking at what more we can do to prevent the use of e-cigarettes by children and young people and will publish that work later this year.

“E-cigarettes should never be used by children, young people and non-smokers.  It is illegal to sell electronic cigarettes or e-liquids to someone under 18. 

“It is also an offence for adults to buy, or try to buy, tobacco products or e-cigarettes for someone under the age of 18.”

  • The programme is on Monday night at 8pm on S4C. English subtitles are available.