8th July 2024

Shared goals on illicit vapes

A new data-sharing initiative is just one of the weapons Inter Scientific is providing to Trading Standards in the war against illicit vapes.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
There is a huge epidemic of illegal products being sold on the market, either displayed freely in shops or hidden away

Inter Scientific provides laboratory testing and regulatory compliance services to businesses and enforcers with the same goal in mind: to promote compliance and, thereby, improve safety standards to the consumer. Having recently moved to a larger headquarters in Liverpool, the company has its sights set on expansion whilst supporting enforcement agencies — and is offering cash-strapped local authority Trading Standards departments access to a free members-only vape compliance database tool that could prove invaluable.

Tom Coleman, Inter Scientific’s Customer Solutions Advisor, has done a lot of work with Trading Standards teams over the past few years, and that relationship has only become stronger as time has gone on. “We’ve been working with Trading Standards since September 2022,” he explains. “It started off with just a couple of officers in Liverpool and Newcastle who needed vapes that they’d seized tested for compliance of fill volume and nicotine content.”

From that initial trickle, just like Trading Standards teams across the country, Inter Scientific quickly found itself faced with a deluge of non-compliant vapes with tank capacities well beyond the two millilitre maximum, and nicotine contents far in excess of the legal limit of 20 milligrams per millilitre.

“Of the hundreds of vapes we have tested that Trading Standards send in, 78% are non-compliant with regulations for fill volume,” says Coleman. “We’ve had some as high as 20 millilitres. We’ve also encountered samples with up to 50 milligrams per millilitre of nicotine, 2.5 times the legal limit, which is incredibly strong and potentially dangerous.
“We’re finding that there is a huge epidemic of illegal products being sold on the market, either displayed freely in shops or hidden away.”

An area of concern is vapes that are being sold as nicotine-free, but which on subsequent laboratory analysis prove to be anything but. Indeed, in 27% of vapes tested nicotine is present and at levels close to the maximum legally permitted.

“The issue is that 0% nicotine vapes are not regulated or required to be notified in the UK at the moment,” says Coleman. “If a product is sold as 0% nicotine then tank volumes don’t have to be compliant to 2 millilitres — they can be sold online, and over the counter to under-16s. Trading Standards Officers in general are not currently seizing these products because they’re not covered under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR).”

However, says Coleman, “We’ve had samples sent to us that had been labelled as 0% nicotine, and we found that about 50% of them did actually contain significant amounts of nicotine — a few of them even beyond the maximum legal amount.”

Inter Scientific uses UKAS-accredited methods to test samples and then produce certification confirming whether they are compliant or non-compliant, with typical turnaround times under 10 working days. The company can also provide Section 9 witness statements which can be used as evidence in any subsequent prosecution.

Inter Scientific has worked with Trading Standards teams across the UK, including recently on a project for the 22 local authorities in Wales.

To support Trading Standards in the fight against the illicit vape trade, Inter Scientific offers supported pricing to help local regions maximise vape testing budgets and protect public health.

Beyond vapes
Julia McLachlan, the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, says: “Although Inter Scientific’s core business has historically centred around analytical and laboratory compliance testing linked to nicotine-containing products, there are many compliance commonalities that span into other regulated markets and segments. Expanding our capabilities and offerings in these areas could present further opportunities for Inter Scientific to support Trading Standards more widely than just with vapes, in areas such as cosmetic brand authenticity.”

Vape Aware
As Inter Scientific received more and more samples from the fragmented Trading Standards regions, it was becoming increasingly clear that there was duplication in the products being tested. And in the age of squeezed budgets and constrained resources, the opportunity to cut down on unnecessary duplication can be a real game-changer. As Coleman explains, “We’ve got a lot of data that we’ve collected over the past 18 months from Trading Standards on which vaping products are consistently showing up across the regions. To aid compliance transparency to enforcement agencies, we have developed and launched a vape compliance tool, a database containing results of all vape products that Inter Scientific have tested on behalf of Trading Standards.”

Trading Standards teams are now able to create a complimentary account on Inter Scientific’s Vape Aware platform, and see test results for samples that have been sent in by other teams elsewhere in the country. “Officers can look at and see which products are non-compliant, and then hopefully that will help them know whether they need to target specific brands, or they can use those results to provide evidence against the manufacturers of these products that keep ending up on the market,” Coleman says.

“We recognise how the budgets for Trading Standards in the fight against illegal vapes are relatively small,” says McLachlan. “We also noticed that different siloed regions were asking us to do repeat analysis on the same manufacturers or brands. The same analyses kept being done on the same products, which led us to ask, how can we support Trading Standards holistically and help them to maximise their budgets effectively, by sharing that data across the different regions and councils. So, for example, Officers in Manchester can see what’s been tested for colleagues in Newcastle — and that could really help maximise budgets.”

Promoting compliance
As well as working side by side with enforcement agencies to tackle the illicit vape trade, a  big part of Inter Scientific’s work is supporting responsible manufacturers of nicotine-containing products. “We remain impartial,” says McLachlan. “We support responsible manufacturers with analytical and regulatory compliance, ensuring that products put onto the market are fully compliant within the intended geographical region.

“We recognise that nicotine-containing products such as vapes offer a reduced-risk option and a valuable tool for adult smokers on their  smoking cessation journey. Our compliance testing services support that only responsible manufacturers and regulatorily compliant brands and products — which adhere to established laws, regulations, and testing requirements — reach consumers.

“Our mission is for Vape Aware to become the trusted source of vape product compliance data in the UK, allowing consumers and retailers to determine whether products are notified and complaint. With that in mind we will be launching in the very near future Vape Aware phase 2, targeted with vape producers and associated supply chain partners in mind. Our goal being to drive an industry-led initiative for every batch of vape products in the UK to appear on the Vape Aware database so that consumers can ensure that their vape products are legal and compliant.”

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