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Tobacco and vape consultation: Will a new law prevent young people taking up smoking or vaping?

Image: Adobe Stock

The Federation of Independent Retailers

3 min read Partner content

Sales of cigarettes and vapes to under 18s are already banned. Young people are likely to continue procuring them on the booming black market, unless there is thorough enforcement of legislation stemming from the consultation ‘Creating a smoke-free generation and tackling your vaping’, says Shahid Razzaq, National Vice President, The Federation of Independent Retailers

It is illegal to sell tobacco and vapes to under 18s. However, many young people are obtaining vapes from unorthodox sources where there is vague or non-existent compliance with the law — cafes, take-away shops, hair salons, car boot sales, and tanning salons are some of the outlets. That is in addition to deliveries by dealers to the home or street corner 30 metres from the school gate.  

Headshot of Shahid Razzaq
Shahid Razzaq

These rogue sales are the ones most likely to take place regardless of the buyer’s age. They are also most likely to contain dangerous, illegal levels of toxic chemicals, most commonly from companies in the Far East.  

If enforcement under the legislation stemming from this consultation exercise is not well enough thought through, young people are likely to continue to procure vapes in the booming black market.  

Cigarettes are also a feature of illicit sales outlets, and it is organised crime gangs who are usually at the core of this trade. Tobacco smuggling means the public purse, struggling to fund important public services, loses over £2.8bn in tax and duty revenue each year. It is a source of frustration to our members running newsagents and convenience stores that there are too few trading standards officers to tackle effectively the crime that blights communities.  

The UK government plans an additional £30m a year from April 2024 to tackle illicit trade and underage sales. That is spread across three agencies: Trading Standards, Border Force and HMRC. Will this really be enough to make a difference?  

HMRC and Border Force have strategic plans to target illegal activity at all stages of the supply chain. Will these plans really be well enough resourced?  

The consultation document proposes that local authorities have powers to issue on-the-spot fines of £100 or £200. It sounds encouraging, but our members fear there won’t be enough enforcement officers to make these happen, and crucially, there may not be sufficient focus on the rogue outlets where teenagers commonly buy — street corners and at a mate’s home, with deliveries often ordered on social media.  

In Scotland, local authorities already have powers to issue fixed penalty notices to retailers and individuals who commit an offence. Freedom of Information enquiries reported by the Herald newspaper in June indicated that in the last two years, some local authorities in Scotland have not done any test purchases of underage vape sales.  

Freedom of Information enquiries by Scottish Television indicate not one fine was issued in Scotland in the year after it became illegal to smoke on hospital grounds. Local government officials said they did not have the resources to enforce the law.  

The UK’s four nations involved in this consultation exercise must register that to prevent young people from taking up smoking or vaping, the level of enforcement needs to change. They will also command respect if they take on board that adequate resources for effective support and education campaigns are also key to encouraging more smokers to quit. 

For more information, please email 

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