Counterfeit vaping products have emerged as a significant cause for concern, driven by the associated health risks and illegal activities they promote. Identifying genuine vapes, understanding the implications of counterfeit alternatives, and knowing how to respond to such an issue can be complex. In this article, we aim to address these questions and provide valuable insights.
The UK's increasing preference for disposable vape bars has given rise to a surge in counterfeit products infiltrating the market. Shockingly, in the latter half of 2022, nearly 1.4 tonnes of illicit vaping devices were confiscated in Northeast England. Additionally, Kent Trading Standards intercepted over 300,000 counterfeit vapes at Channel ports in December of the same year.
Alarming data from a freedom of information request reveals that over 2.5 million counterfeit vaping devices have been seized since the start of 2020. Among the 125 local authorities surveyed, the highest volume of seized counterfeit vapes, close to 1.4 million, was reported by the council encompassing Heathrow Airport. These seizures may represent only a fraction of non-compliant devices finding their way into UK stores.
How Prevalent are Counterfeit Vapes?
Research conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has unearthed a concerning statistic: approximately one-third of vape products available in the UK fail to comply with the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) regulations.
Counterfeit vaping products are frequently discovered in smaller retail establishments, such as corner shops. However, there is an emerging trend of fraudulent vapes being sold through online channels by unscrupulous vendors masquerading as legitimate suppliers.
The first few months of 2023 have witnessed a surge in illegal vape seizures, surpassing the entirety of the preceding year's figures. Some of these confiscated items do not adhere to UK regulations, circumventing essential safety checks, while others are counterfeit replicas of renowned brands like Elf Bar and Lost Mary.
Recently, The Mirror investigated fake disposables imitating the best-selling brand SKE, leading to legal action initiated by SKE against the seller.
Distinguishing Genuine from Counterfeit Vapes
Recognising counterfeit vapes can be challenging at first glance, as these imitations often closely resemble authentic products. Unlawful sellers typically disregard copyright and trademark infringements, focusing on their illegal profits instead.
For instance, fake SKE Crystal Bars, as revealed in The Mirror's investigation, exhibited a subtle deviation with a curved bottom, whereas the genuine product features a flat bottom enabling it to stand upright.
Counterfeit Elf Bars have been placed side by side with authentic ones, with the sole aesthetic distinction lying in the font and colour gradient. Given these similarities, distinguishing genuine from counterfeit vapes based on appearance alone can be perplexing.
Identifying Counterfeit Vaping Products:
All legal disposable vape bars are packaged within a box, containing a sealed packet housing the device and an instructional leaflet. This packaging should display essential information, including:
- Nicotine health warning (unless nicotine-free)
- Nicotine content (not exceeding 20mg/2%)
- Nicotine dose per puff (unless nicotine-free)
- Puff count (must not exceed 600 puffs)
- Ingredient list (should not include colourings, taurine, or caffeine)
- Batch number
- Expiry date
- E-liquid capacity (not exceeding 2ml for nicotine-containing vape products)
- Hazard statements
- ECID number
The ECID number can be verified using the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) search facility on their website, ensuring the product's approval for sale in the UK.
Are There Exceptions?
Risks Associated with Counterfeit Vapes The primary concern when using counterfeit vapes extends beyond the high nicotine content and copyright infringements. Counterfeit products have not undergone the necessary safety tests, leaving users uncertain about the substances they inhale.
A recent BBC News report exposed fake disposables in a school containing excessive levels of lead, nickel, and chromium, all exceeding safe thresholds. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that elevated lead exposure can harm the central nervous system and impair children's brain development.
Laboratory tests also uncovered compounds like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, found in cigarette smoke, at levels ten times higher than in legal vapes, and in some cases, even surpassing traditional cigarettes. David Lawson, co-founder of the lab, emphasised the gravity of these results.
The Disturbing Reality
A recent investigation by the Daily Mail revealed that workers at a counterfeit vape factory in China conducted product testing using their mouths. These devices, designed to resemble Elf Bars, were subsequently sealed, packaged, and potentially shipped to the UK.
Photographs from these factories depicted workers handling mouthpieces without gloves, unsanitary sinks and toilets, and cigarette butts littered around the manufacturing area.
Victor Xiao, Chief Executive of the authentic ELFBAR, expressed his concern about these conditions, emphasising the disregard for product safety and consumer health by the criminals behind counterfeit products.
Responding to the Sale of Counterfeit Vapes If you unknowingly purchase a counterfeit vape, you possess a legal right to a refund. It is also advisable to report the seller to Trading Standards, as they may take legal action against the offender.
Sellers may argue that counterfeit items were apparent due to their low prices. Nonetheless, selling counterfeit vapes remains illegal, and your legal rights remain valid. Reporting such vendors contributes to the effort of eradicating potentially hazardous counterfeits from the UK market.
Avoiding the Purchase of Counterfeit Vapes
The most effective way to ensure the authenticity and safety of your vaping products is to buy from reputable retailers, such as UK Aspire Vendor. We prioritize customer welfare and safety, sourcing products exclusively from principled and trustworthy suppliers. Additionally, we implement rigorous age verification checks to prevent sales to minors.
Furthermore, we are proud members of the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), a mark of responsibility and credibility for your chosen vape retailer.
Support for Stricter Regulations Advocates for responsible vaping, including ourselves, call for stricter regulations and heavier fines for offenders. We seek to mandate proper licensing and vetting for all vaping product sellers, with UKVIA representing our collective voice in this endeavour.