4th July 2023

An attack of the vapours

Thanks to feedback from our members and the hard work of our new Lead Officers, CTSI has achieved tangible results on non-compliant vapes. Hopefully it’s a success that can be replicated elsewhere

By Duncan Stephenson
Director of Policy and Public Affairs, CTSI
Our success on the vaping front clearly illustrates how vitally important it is for CTSI to actively engage with our members

In my last column, I set out our stall for some of the forthcoming attractions of CTSI’s policy and communications work. In this one I’d like to report on progress in one particular area.

Our new approach has involved us identifying, through member engagement and horizon-scanning, the priorities for CTSI policy. Vaping was one of these key areas, and our work in this space has occupied a significant amount of time for the first half of 2023. This has helped us make a huge amount of progress in putting the work of Trading Standards in the media spotlight, and has enabled us to successfully persuade Government of the need for greater direction, resources and review.

In our CTSI membership survey last year, we asked for your views on priority and emerging issues. It was clear that many on the frontline of Trading Standards were reporting ongoing and mounting problems about the sale and supply of vapes to people under the age of sale, the growth in illicit and non-compliant products being sold in shops, and the headache that the seizure and disposal of these items causes to some local Trading Standards teams. Our members’ concerns very much reflect a significant shift in the supply and popularity of vapes. According to anti-smoking charity ASH, the number of young people aged 11-17 who vape increased from 4% in 2020, almost doubling to 7% by 2022.

In addition to the underage element, the issues with vaping have several touchpoints across the different areas of Trading Standards work. There are issues relating to counterfeit products or trademark infringements in which a potential loophole is being exploited to enable well-known brand names associated with confectionery and soft drinks to be used to sell vapes – such as Skittles. The proliferation of
non-compliant vapes being sold by shops and other retailers speaks to a wider problem about the confusion and responsibilities across the supply chain – of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers of products – particularly when goods are seized.

Disrupting supply
The flood of non-compliant vapes on sale also speaks to the fact that there are significant problems about how we stop such products entering the market in the first place through our ports and borders (see cover story, p18). We need to cut the problem off at source in order to prevent local Trading Standards teams being over-burdened and having to conduct ‘whack-a-mole’-type policing of these products on the UK’s high streets.

Over the past year CTSI has been increasingly active in reporting these concerns in the national media. In January we seem to have captured the zeitgeist when we published our concerns that vapes were one of the biggest threats to high streets that our teams were facing – 60% of our members said that high street shops selling vapes to underage consumers or non-compliant products was the enforcement issue that concerned them most. Our communications work secured blanket media coverage for this issue and enabled CTSI and the Trading Standards profession more generally to convey our concerns.

CTSI has had to move very quickly on this topic to stay ahead of the curve. We developed and published the first in a series of position statements setting out the issues, the evidence and what we believe needs to happen. We highlighted that around one in three test purchases resulted in a sale to people under the legal age of sale – although we lacked a definitive national picture. Similarly, we drew attention to the fact a similar proportion of vapes sold currently are non-compliant with the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

We called for clarity from Government – in this case the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) – on this issue, as well as additional resources to support the profession. We also called for an exploration of how better regulation could minimise the ‘youth appeal’ of vaping, including potential changes in the positioning of such products in shops – away from confectionery products, for example – and a review of some of the elements which may appeal to the non-smoking underage generation – including the bright colourings, branding and promotion on social media. And we called for greater sanctions to tackle repeat offenders, while also helping to provide resources and education to support businesses do the right thing.

Making a splash
Following publication of our member survey and our follow-up policy paper, we secured unprecedented media coverage for CTSI and the profession, and had spokespeople featuring on all the main broadcast news channels, as well as in the press. We even made our first splash with a CTSI-inspired article in the Sunday Times Magazine. While appearances on the BBC Breakfast sofa, Daily Mail and Tik Tok are all well and good, quite often with media and campaign work it takes time to see results. We were therefore delighted and pleasantly surprised to see the DHSC announce additional resources for Trading Standards, and a call for evidence to identify what can be done to minimise the youth appeal of vaping.

Ok – the funding is not huge – it is only £3m and not the £15m that was called for in the Khan Review. It is for England only; and it is only for a couple of years. But it is a start and an acknowledgment that Trading Standards, which covers so many areas, cannot deliver what is expected without proper resourcing. Our success on the vaping front is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it clearly illustrates how vitally important it is for CTSI to actively engage with our members to identify current and emerging issues. As the national professional membership body it is our responsibility to give voice to these issues as well as supporting local and regional teams.

Aligned to our new vision, our new campaigning work has enabled us to voice concerns not just from the profession but also from consumers and businesses.

We have worked successfully with a number of different partner organisations. We helped to get messages out from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) in response to issues about non-compliant products, although the ad hoc arrangements we developed emphasise the need for investment in national co-ordination on the issue, which the additional funding will seek to address. We have also worked closely with our colleagues in National Trading Standards to develop a detailed plan for how the DHSC funding can be allocated.

Working in this agile way has also required us to work very closely with members and especially those who know this subject very well. We have been delighted to appoint several new Lead Officers for a Vaping portfolio, and I’d like to say a special thank you to Kate Pike, David Hunt and Marsha Bell for all their support in getting us to this next level by supporting our advocacy efforts and policy development activities.

This has also been a great opportunity for many in the new Head Office team to work more closely – and to get some great results. When External Affairs works well in organisations, it is outward-facing and inward-shaping, and it is great to see that as well as policy and communications on this issue, CTSI has developed CPPD opportunities for our membership. Our Spotlight On… Vaping webinar attracted around 300 members to take part, and we are developing further CPPD opportunities on this issue.

We aren’t the Chartered Institute for Vaping – although it may have felt like that at times over the past few months – and we will be making good progress in other policy areas. However, the vaping issue has enabled us to shout about the vital work and key concerns our profession has – and both the media and the Government have listened.

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