The vaping industry has gained incredible popularity in recent times and is widely supported by the government and national health authorities. This massive demand for smokeless alternatives has resulted in an exponential increase of people who use these products. Despite this positive outlook, the industry has also inadvertently given rise to a fraudulent market. Fraudsters take advantage of the growing consumer base’s search for more affordable options by producing and selling unregulated vaping products or overseen. This bypasses rigid regulations and oversight governing the legitimate vaping industry.
At first glance, the black market for vaping products may seem trivial in the larger narrative of the vaping phenomenon. Yet, behind the scenes of the legitimate vaping industry, a web of untrustworthy suppliers and hidden dangers await the unsuspecting vaper. From illicit e-liquids that fail to meet safety standards to counterfeit vaping devices manufactured with little regard for quality control, the risks posed by these substandard and unregulated products are far from trivial.
Consumers in search of cheaper options need to understand that they are putting themselves in harm’s way. Illicit products lack the transparency of regulated products, leaving room for potential hazards and quality assurance concerns. This seriously threatens the health of those who use these products and can potentially cast a negative perception on the vaping industry.
TPD Regulations for Vaping
The vaping industry achieved a significant milestone in May 2016 when the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) Regulations were expanded. The main goal was to set a standard for safety and quality requirements for e-cigarettes and e-liquid ingredients. The TPD introduced strict safety control protocols for the electronic components of vape devices, mandating thorough testing and certification from authorised government safety bodies for manufacturers. Additionally, retailers became legally obligated to implement age verification measures to protect consumers’ safety and prevent minors from being exposed to the potential risks of nicotine-containing devices and e-liquids.
The new TPD Regulations introduced six important changes, including:
- Limiting the nicotine strength of any e-liquid to either 20mg or 2%.
- Imposing a volume limit of 10ml for nicotine-containing e-liquids.
- Restricting the maximum capacity of tanks or pods to 2ml.
- Prohibiting substances like diacetyl, caffeine, taurine, and certain colourings.
- Requiring clear nicotine labelling on all vaping devices and e-liquids to enhance transparency.
- Mandating the meticulous registration of all new e-liquids with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be sold.
Understanding Black-Market Vaping Products
Black-market vaping products refer to any vape products that do not comply with the regulatory requirements set by the TPD regulations and fail to meet the quality controls established by the MHRA. These products are potentially hazardous to consumers. They are distributed through unregulated channels, including physical establishments like off-licences and corner shops, online marketplaces, and social media platforms.
Black-market vaping products encompass vape devices that are poorly made, with inadequate wiring and a lack of electrical safety features. Additionally, the e-liquids used in these products are often made in someone’s kitchen, using low-grade base ingredients bought in bulk, and may contain questionable additives chosen by the manufacturer. It’s essentially a gamble, as consumers do not know what they are getting, and they are placing their trust in individuals with no experience or training, who have no regard for their safety.
Differentiating between black-market and TPD-compliant vaping products may not be immediately apparent, as manufacturers often attempt to imitate the design and packaging of reputable vape brands. This is done with the intention of capitalising on the popularity and success of established products.
Risks Linked to Unauthorised Vaping Products
The usage of unauthorised e-liquids brings about considerable risks due to the absence of quality control and transparency in the ingredients used. Illicit e-liquids may contain harmful and toxic substances, unsafe additives, and microbes and bacteria because of unsterile manufacturing processes.
Designed with a focus on minimising costs, leading to the use of substandard materials and inferior wiring. As a result, these devices lack the advanced electrical safety technologies that reputable manufacturers incorporate to ensure safe operation. When opting for black market alternatives, users forfeit the assurance of having essential safety features that reputable manufacturers diligently include. These critical safety features include:
- Battery Venting: This mechanism allows for the safe release of gas and pressure in case of battery failure, helping to prevent potential hazards such as explosions.
- Short-Circuit Protection: A vital safeguard, short-circuit protection detects and prevents excessive current flow caused by short circuits. By promptly interrupting the circuit, this feature reduces the risk of device damage and potential harm to the user.
- Overcharge and Over-discharge Protection: These safeguards are designed to maintain battery health and longevity. They automatically cut off the power supply when the battery reaches certain voltage thresholds, preventing overcharging that can degrade the battery or over-discharging that may lead to damage or poor performance.
- Battery Monitoring: An advanced feature that monitors the battery’s performance and provides information about voltage and charge capacity, allowing users to effectively manage their battery usage.
Despite their outward appearance, black-market vape kits have significant deficiencies when it comes to battery installation and wiring. These illicit products prioritise minimal functionality, often only ensuring basic on/off operation, and they adhere to substandard practices to meet the bare minimum requirements. As a result, purchasing such black-market kits become a game of chance, with a high risk of receiving a defective device or one with a very short lifespan.
- Nicotine Content and Quality
Illicit disposable vapes and e-liquids that are not in compliance with regulations often contain nicotine strengths that surpass the 20mg limit set by the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). For instance, a 600-puff disposable vape with 20mg of nicotine is equivalent to smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes and is intended to be used at a pace that aligns with typical smoking habits. Although higher nicotine strengths may seem enticing, they pose the risk of negative effects such as nicotine overdose and increased dependency. This is particularly concerning when we consider the impact of vaping on underage minors.
- Age Verification
A recent study conducted by the NHS in 2022 revealed that 18% of 15-year-olds reported regular use of vaping products, and the number of 15-year-old girls increased from 10% in 2018 to 21% in 2022. The significant rise in underage vaping has prompted the government to establish a trading standards enforcement team. This team conducts test purchases in shops to crack down on the sale of vapes to minors and seize illegal non-compliant vape products.
The risk associated with black-market vaping lies in the unethical practices employed by vendors who sell these illicit products. These vendors often operate in high street stores or open markets where there are fewer control measures and monitoring. This heightened accessibility to underage individuals has inadvertently fuelled the prevalence of youth vaping and nicotine addiction.
What steps can you take to prevent using black-market vaping products?
To ensure that you steer clear of black market vapes, it is strongly advised to only make purchases from authorised retailers. These include reputable vape shops and online stores that obtain their products directly from manufacturers and distributors who comply with the regulations outlined in the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).
The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) provides valuable guidance and supports robust measures to maintain the integrity of the vaping industry. Their recommendations involve implementing on-the-spot fines of at least £10,000 for individuals caught selling to minors or distributing illegal products. Furthermore, UKVIA suggests the implementation of a retail registration scheme that imposes strict standards on retailers and ensures adherence to rigorous age verification processes.
By following these recommendations, you can minimise the risk of encountering black market vapes and ensure you are purchasing legitimate, safe products from trusted sources.
To ensure safety when purchasing vape products, you can access the MHRA register and search for vape product manufacturers. Only purchase from manufacturers that are listed on this register. It is important to avoid manufacturers that are not included.
The impact of vaping as a pathway to a smoke-free life cannot be emphasised enough. Regulated vaping products offer individuals a safer way to consume nicotine, empowering them to regain control of their health and overcome tobacco addiction. These products are subject to a strict regulatory framework established by public health authorities, ensuring that they meet rigorous safety and quality standards. This provides consumers with a reliable and trustworthy option to embark on their journey to a smoke-free future. By raising awareness, enforcing regulations, and supporting authorised retailers, we can protect the progress made in smoking cessation, prioritise consumer safety, and strive for a future where a smoke-free society becomes a reality for everyone.