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Council / Test purchases of vapes in shops provide varied results

Photo: Dave Donaldson

SOME Shetland retailers appear to have failed to follow ‘Challenge 25’ guidance when trading standards recently undertook test purchases of vapes by people slightly older than the minimum age.

Four retailers sold nicotine vapour products – which should only be sold to over 18s – despite the purchaser not providing any valid proof of age.

If any retailer does the same again in further tests, then formal enforcement action may be taken.

It comes amid continued concern over the impact of single-use vapes both environmentally and on the youth community when it comes to health.

A motion was approved by Shetland councillors in May calling on the Scottish Government to ban single-use vapes – while it also requested reinforcement of trade regulations.

Despite the age restriction on buying vapes, there is concern that their flavours and designs entice younger folk who are still getting their hands on them.

Shetland Islands Council’s trading standards team has the responsibility for local enforcement of legal restrictions on the supply of such nicotine vapour products (NVPs).

Trading standards team leader David Marsh said the motion from elected members “provides valuable and appreciated political and community support for the enforcement activity which we were already undertaking”.

The motion instructed the council’s trading standards and waste services staff to “ensure enforcement of existing regulations on the control of the sale, retailing and safe disposal of these products for all businesses in Shetland”.

Marsh said the team already undertake annual visits to retailers selling tobacco and NVPs to check compliance and to provide advice, support and guidance.

They have also resumed “integrity testing” of retailers selling NVPs, using volunteers who are only slightly older than the minimum age for purchasers, and who therefore should be required by the seller to provide appropriate proof of age.

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Integrity testing was last carried out for tobacco and NVPs in Shetland in 2019, with the results then not giving any cause for significant concern.

Marsh said eight Shetland retailers were recently visited for integrity testing.

All are required by law to operate a Challenge 25 policy, where proof of age should be sought if the retailer believes the person is under 25.

It is most commonly known for alcohol purchases but it also applies to all other age-restricted products.

If the retailer asks the customer for ID but they refuse or are unable to provide any proof of age, then the sale should not proceed.

With eight retailers checked, “four refused to sell without being shown valid proof of age, but the other four did sell despite the purchaser not providing any valid proof of age,” Marsh said.

Three of the four retailers that did sell did not ask for any ID whatsoever, and the other did initially request ID but when the customer said they did not have any with them, they sold the product anyway.

“Those four retailers who sold have received another visit by an officer to once again remind them of their legal responsibilities and to reinforce the need for all their staff to be vigilant about this issue,” Marsh added.

“We intend to carry out further checks in the coming months, and if any retailer sells for a second time without being shown valid proof of age we will look to take formal enforcement action.”

The council also has the power to undertake test purchase attempts for age-restricted products using under-age volunteers.

However this is strictly controlled and is said to be mostly appropriate in situations where there are grounds for suspecting that a particular retailer is selling products to under-agers.

It is understood that the team have not yet received any credible intelligence of such sales of NVPs by any retailer in Shetland.

Trading standards will also be aiming to carry out its annual round of advice, support and guidance visits to 20 per cent of local retailers – focusing particularly on those retailers selling NVPs.

Marsh also highlighted that trading standards is keen to hear from anyone with information about where and how young people in Shetland are accessing products like single-use vapes.

“This would enable us to target our enforcement activity where it can have the greatest impact,” he said.

People can get information to trading standards by phoning 01595 744887, by emailing trading.standards@shetland.gov.uk or by post at 8 North Ness, Lerwick ZE1 0LZ.

“We treat all information which we receive in complete confidence,” Marsh said, “but if someone wishes to maintain complete anonymity, they can also pass any information to us through the Crimestoppers charity by using their https://crimestoppers-uk.org/ website or phoning 0800 555 111.”

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