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Vaping – moneymaker or minefield? 

Many smokers have swapped traditional cigarettes for e-cigs in recent years - in fact, there are now over three million vapers in the UK.

It has come as a lifeline for many CTN stores that are being hit by a decline in sales of traditional tobacco products. Public Health England said vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking. Switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys real health benefits, chiefly because, unlike normal cigarettes, the devices don't produce tar and carbon monoxide.

But, that does not mean the vapour is entirely free of harmful chemicals. Studies have found it contains some toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke, at lower levels. However, the consensus is that e-cigs are 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. The UK is the world’s second-largest market for vape products - and it is said to be the fastest-growing industry in the country. It is hardly surprising that many small stores are featuring vaping displays in pride of place on counters - especially when suppliers can offer next day delivery on stocks.  

“We all know tobacco sales are falling. But vaping has really taken off. I’ve put a merchandiser right next to the till, and I have to refill it every couple of days. It brings in customers. I have plenty of regulars who come in for a refill who pick up a paper and a few cans at the same time. They might be going elsewhere if I didn’t have vaping as a business builder.”

But there are drawbacks

It sounds as though the vape market is the perfect way to build your takings. But remember, the devices are designed to help smokers quit and are billed as a healthier alternative to smoking - but their sale is still regulated by certain laws. 

Careful what you buy –

There are clear rules that your stock must conform to:

  • Refillable tanks must have a capacity of no more than 2ml
  • E-liquids can not be sold in quantities greater than 10ml
  • Unless registered as a medicine, e-liquids can not have a nicotine strength of more than 20mg/ml
  • E-liquid packaging must be child-resistant and tamper-evident
  • All e-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency before they can be sold

“You think - this isn’t smoking, the same rules don’t apply. But they do, and if you break those rules you could find yourself in trouble with the local trading standards. That’s something you really don’t need.”

Buying your stock from a reputable supplier should ensure that it meets the law - but beware of any refills you are offered from a source you don’t know. They could be unsafe as well as illegal if they are not registered. There are some horror stories about e-cigs that have burst into flames. If you sell an unsafe product you could be held responsible. If you bought from an unregistered supplier you might have no way to call on their product liability cover - because they probably would not have any. 

Be careful who you sell to -

An undercover investigation found that almost nine-tenths of British vape shops are willing to sell e-cigarettes to non-smokers – against the industry code of conduct. Worse, there seem to be problems with people under the age of 18, who are, of course, too young to smoke - purchasing vaping materials.

Current law is clear. It prohibits the sale of nicotine inhaling products, including liquids and devices - to under-18s, except under certain very restricted medical circumstances, which you are unlikely to be faced with. Retailers who are found to be breaking the rules risk being prosecuted, leading to a maximum fine of £2,500.

Why is there confusion?

Convenience stores have been fully aware of the restrictions on selling smoking materials for many years. The problem seems to have arisen because, when vaping was first introduced to the UK, there was no legislation in place to prevent people of any age purchasing e-cigarettes.

The growth of the vaping market has been so rapid, the government has been hard-pressed to keep up. However, after trying frantically to keep up with the pace of change, the government has put laws in place to limit their sale to those who are considered to be minors.

It is also made illegal for any adult to try to buy e-cigarettes for anyone aged under 18. Vaping has, therefore, been brought into line with smoking, although there are some concessions, for example, vaping will still be permitted when transporting minors.

Remember, minors are not actually committing a crime if they attempt to buy e-cigarettes, but any retailer that is caught selling these products to minors can be fined up to £2,500 for the offence. In practice, many youngsters under the legal age have been able to buy vaping equipment around the country without being asked to show any form of ID. What’s more, local authorities have started to use underage customers to try to find retailers who are willing to flout the law. 

With further laws set to come into force to outlaw smoking even further by 2020, it seems likely that more draconian rules will be implemented soon.

What can you do?

It is important to protect yourself against underage vapers - or selling to minors working for the local authority. If there is any doubt, ask for proof of age, just as you would with smoking products and alcohol.

Make sure your staff are fully aware of the laws against selling to underage customers too - and to avoid confrontations, make sure you have age restriction stickers clearly displayed.

Need help to fund your retail business?

Whether you are looking around for new product lines, need to refresh your shop with new displays or are looking for ways to pay for security equipment, you may need to call on external funding. 

At Rangewell we work to secure the funding you need. With solutions like Merchant Cash Advance, we could help provide the cash you want to make the most of your shop. Our service is free, and a call to us could be the first step to making the most of your retail business. So if you want to make the most of your business, find out more about Merchant Cash Advance solutions or apply today.

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