Trading Standards and Licensing in the UK, a watchdog group, recently sent out an underage undercover operative to a number of British vape shops. They found that 9 of 10 vape shops sold e-cigarette products or e-liquids to an underaged volunteer. The undercover operation was carried out in West Midlands, a heavily populated county in west central England.
It has been against the law to sell vapor products to minors in the UK since October, 2015. Trading Standards and Licensing manager Bob Charnley said that it is the job of his organization to protect children by ensuring businesses are aware of the law. He said that the intent of this operation was to make sure vape shops understood the responsibility to not sell electronic cigarette products and e-liquids to minors.
Charnley said that each of the offending shops has been sent a letter reminding them of legal obligations. Shops were cautioned that future violations could result in enforcement action including criminal prosecution. In addition to the threat of prosecution, the offending vape shops have damaged the reputation of the industry. That is a PR disaster that we cannot afford.
Public Fallout From Vape Shop Sting
The vaping community needs to be acutely aware that there are many very powerful special interests that would be very happy to see vaping go away. And while Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have found that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking, that does not mean that vaping is home free in the UK. There are still many groups trying to slander vaping and e-cigs. In both eh US and UK, the public perception of vaping is deteriorating with more and more people thinking that e-cigs are as dangerous as tobacco. This won’t help. The publicity from the West Midlands vape shop sting started a PR storm.
As you can imagine, anti-vaping interests in England pounced. The perception is not helped when incidents like this will be weaponized and deployed against vaping. That is exactly what happened.
After the results of the undercover sting broke, a British government cabinet member for public health and protection, Counclillor Pete Gill, said “Clearly this is an unacceptable result. It’s important that retailers have procedures in place to ensure they do not break the law. Research suggests that e-cigarettes could act as a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes and the long-term health effects of using an electronic cigarette are still unknown.’
Self-Inflicted Wound Revives Old Anti-Vaping Talking Points
Councillor Gill used the opportunity of the terrible results of the undercover sting to revive the tired old anti-vaping talking points. By selling to a minor, the nine of ten vape shops involved opened the entire industry to not only a new line of criticism, but a prominent return of age old scary myths. Once again we are dealing with the claims that vaping is a gateway to smoking and that the “long-term effects are unknown”.
The data shows us that the number of teens that use an electronic cigarette as their first experience with a tobacco products is miniscule. What the researchers do is lump ecigs in with other tobacco products to get a result that allows them to say their “might” be a connection. We constantly have to fight this perception and get the truth out there and incidents like this are a major set-back.
The old “long-term health effects unknown” scare tactic is a shallow attack but it does give the impression to the casual reader that indeed e-cigs may be as dangerous as cigarettes. It is the tacit innuendo that does so much harm to getting to the truth. A very effective negative propaganda tool that in this case the vaping community invited.
Are these special interests trying to undo the progress toward making England smoke free? They may be. In this case, the wound is self-inflicted.
US Vape Shops Should Take Note
There is something here that we cannot deny. A headline screaming that 9 or 10 vape shops is illegally selling to minors makes for compelling reading. For all of the special interests that compare us to Big Tobacco this is their dream “I told you so” scenario. The online e-cig brands like VaporFi, Halo, Apollo etc have taken in depth precautions to ensure that they never sell to minors. In a vape shop setting, the temptation can be hard to ignore. But we cannot sell to minors. If you are a US vape shop owner, be aware that undercover stings like this will be happening and probably already are. Or if we see a headline on Foxnews.com or where ever about 9 of 10 US vape shops selling to minors, just imagine the storm it could bring down.
If there is a pattern of US vape shops selling to minors, it will be front page news and regulators will be given additional ammunition to attack electronic cigarettes and the vaping community. They already openly call vapers stupid sheep among other things. We need to be beyond reproach in everything we do when it comes to selling to minors.
I have been to dozens of vape shops in my area and around the country. Every one that I have been to takes extra caution never to sell to minors. The overwhelming majority of vape shop owners are passionate about this industry and equally passionate about preventing young people from taking up vaping. The overall integrity of the vaping community in its principles is something I am proud to be a part of.
None of us wants non-smoking kids to take up vaping out of the blue. If you own a vape shop, make sure you ID.