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As a mother of two daughters of school age, the UK’s youth vaping epidemic keeps me up at night. 

My children have told me about swathes of young teens puffing on multi-coloured pens and a new-wave culture of smoking. Like cigarettes, these products contain nicotine, making them addictive and harmful for our children’s health. 

On the Conservatives’ watch, the number of habitual young vape users has trebled in just three years, with nearly 140,000 more children now vaping regularly. That’s hundreds of thousands of children now becoming addicted to nicotine. 

In response to a written question I submitted, the Government revealed that 50 per cent of UK councils had reported that cigarettes or tobacco products were sold to under-18s. Similarly, staggering figures from this year show that over a quarter of vape test purchases carried out with retailers resulted in an illegal sale.  

What’s more, under current rules, retailers are unbelievably selling “nicotine-free” vapes to under-18s and dish out free samples to consumers regardless of their age. Yet, despite being branded as having “0 per cent nicotine”, research by Inter Scientific has revealed that a shocking 35 per cent of vapes claiming to be nicotine-free actually contained nicotine. 

For years, the Labour Party has been calling for tougher measures to crack down on this epidemic in children taking up vaping. Two years ago, the party put forward an amendment to ban vapes being branded and advertised to children, which was voted down by the government. We now have an opportunity to address this in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. 

Research conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute estimates that a third of all vapes sold may be non-compliant. Many of these non-compliant vapes contain nicotine strengths way over the legal limit, or substances that are known to be harmful when ingested, such as nickel and lead. As a result, the rife sale of illegal vapes poses a unique threat to public health. 

The regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is currently restricted in its powers to tackle the blooming market of illegal vapes. The MHRA is not legally able to prevent or remove notifications for products that didn’t meet the standards. 

Elf Bar, which produces the most popular vapes on the UK market, was found to be selling products which had larger tank sizes than allowed. Unbelievably, the MHRA doesn’t have the powers to take this product off the market – Elf Bar had to voluntarily withdraw them. 

Labour supports a ban on disposable vapes because they overwhelmingly appeal to children – 69% of vapers aged 11-17 use disposable vapes. They also create a lot of litter and are terrible for the environment.

However, in the draft regulation published by the government, the importation of illegal vapes is not currently prohibited and will not be under regulations as drafted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This is a serious omission by this government that needs addressing.

The next Labour government would come down like a ton of bricks on companies profiting at the expense of our children’s health and make sure the vaping industry cannot market to kids.  

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