Criminal Gangs Are Creating a Generation of Vaping Addicts

Everyone is aware of the harms that smoking can pose. Rates are now at their lowest level since records began with only 12.9 per cent of the population being smokers and cigarette smoking is ever decreasing.

We have seen laws being tightened, smoking being disincentivised and the availability of replacement products. These products come in the form of nicotine patches, pouches, gum and in more recent years, vapes.

Vapes have been a fantastic route away from cigarettes for many people. I welcome this. I wholeheartedly welcome any alternative that reduces the risk of harm to individuals. What I do not welcome, is that we are seeing a worrying trend now of vapes being used by people who have never touched a fag in their life becoming addicted to vaping.

Nowhere is this more worrying than the trend with children vaping with latest figures showing that some 20% of children had tried it with many becoming addicts at a shockingly early age. This should concern us all.

The big question that we must ask is ‘how are so many kids getting hold of these vapes?’ The answer is the criminal gangs who are soliciting this vile trade of highly addictive illegal vapes. Shockingly, latest figures show that one in every three vapes sold is illegal.

These are often sold by traders who have popped up overnight, children are being used as mules to fetch and carry these products which are often stored off the premises in the event of a raid by trading standards. Children are being used as salespeople to flog them in the school playground and, in the most shocking of cases, children are being groomed for sex using vapes as a reward.

In Darlington, I recently went on a visit with the Trading Standards Authority who explained that the sale of these illegal products is often concentrated in pop up “mini markets” easily identifiable and distinguishable from reliable traditional corner shops.

Hardworking, honest, retailers explained to me that their revenue from tobacco has fallen off a cliff with these dodgy dealers swooping into towns like mine with blocked out windows, vivid lighting, a sparse supply of genuine goods on the shelves picking up custom selling these dangerous products. One trader of 40 years estimated that his store alone is collecting nearly £200,000 less duty and VAT because of the rise in illegal tobacco and vapes.

Not only is the theft of custom from bona fide corner shops which damage honest trade a worry, but the loss of revenue which our country needs going into the pockets of criminals must not be ignored.

The highly visible illegal trade is not just morally wrong, but the products are illegal for good reason. They do not conform to the rules surrounding vapes therefore they often are laced with dangerous chemicals and a much higher concentration of nicotine. This has even led to children in my constituency being hospitalised from consuming these vile products.

Despite the number of young addicts, despite the harm to communities, despite the staggering litter all over my town and the country being increasingly made up of vapes, despite the harm caused to our environment with about five million vapes going into landfill every single week; the criminals sourcing so much of this do not care.

I welcome that the Government has pledged to wage war on these criminals. We simply cannot allow them to continue the control that they have over our society. If we do not, we will see more people taking up a habit that they otherwise would not have, more children hospitalised and more corner shops, which are pillars of our community, having to close.

We must be radical in our approach. I welcome the news, announced in my constituency by the Prime Minister, that single use vapes will be banned. This is a great step in reducing waste and availability of products to children. I believe that, by criminalising single use vapes, more focus will be on refillable vapes used by adults giving up cigarettes as opposed to a pocket money price appealing dangerous habit for kids to get hooked on.

In my recent Westminster Hall Debate, I made a few suggestions from the launch of a nationwide awareness campaign of the dangers of illegal vapes for adults and children, increased awareness in our schools of the safeguarding risks to young people, vapes being in plain packaging, and out of sight just like tobacco, greater collaboration of intelligence between trading standard departments and police right across the country and on the spot fines and swift closures to illegal retailers. I am glad that many of these suggestions are included in the Governments plans.

It is fantastic that the Government is committed to cracking down on illegal vapes and the gangs that provide them. For the safety of our communities, health of our children and protection of honest business; we must be bold and stub this crime out now.

Peter Gibson MP

Peter Gibson is the Conservative MP for Darlington, and was elected in 2019.