“What you after mate?” – Illegal, dangerous and sold in your corner shop

Illegal vapes which have triggered safety warnings are being openly sold in shops in the heart of Manchester city centre.

Existing laws set strict limits on how much nicotine and liquid a disposable vape can contain. But as a Manchester Evening News investigation found, vapes purporting to have much higher levels of liquid are available from busy newsagents – and in some cases being openly displayed.




The government has announced that it is planning to introduce a ban on the sale of disposable vapes in England, Scotland and Wales.

The measure, which is expected to come into force at the end of 2024 or the start of 2025, is designed to tackle the rise in young people vaping.

But existing laws are already being flouted. The M.E.N this week found vapes that are causing concern among police, local authorities and industry experts are easily available over the counter – in designs and flavours that could be attractive to underage people.

These vapes are illegal and unregulated while the number of puffs they promise is believed to be indicative of illegal nicotine levels.

Of the six vapes purchased by the M.E.N., four promised significantly higher amounts of nicotine than is permitted while none met the legal requirements for labelling and health warnings, which indicate they were not made for the UK market.

This vape promises NINE times the legal levels of ‘juice’

“What you after mate?” the shopkeeper calls out as I peruse the rows of flavoured vapes inside Matadar News & Souvenirs in Manchester city centre.

I take my time before picking out a ‘Mr Blue’ ENE Legend 3500. The packaging on the vape says it contains 3,500 puffs – nearly six times the recommended industry standard of 600 puffs.

Despite trading standards officers at one council warning people to avoid the ENE Legend 3500 due to its “excess capacity”, it is being openly displayed on the shop counter.

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As he chats away on his mobile phone, the shopkeeper reaches for a light blue package and passes it to me. I hand over £11 in cash, pocket my purchase and head out onto the street. The whole exchange is over within less than a minute.

Joining the throng of commuters, I head along Piccadilly and soon come across another shop, Vaping Mart. Inside, a glass-fronted cabinet is filled with a dizzying array of branded vapes.

Matadar News & Souvenirs in Piccadilly(Image: ABNM Photography)

The choice of flavours is almost overwhelming, but I eventually set my sights on a £12 Hayati Pro Max. Its packaging promises 4,000 puffs – nearly seven times the recommended level – and it contains 10ml of liquid – more than five times the legal limit.

I glance towards the till and find the shopkeeper watching me. I ask if he has anything “stronger”. He says he doesn’t. I shoot him a disappointed look and take a Skittle-flavoured one over to the till to pay.

Vaping Mart in Piccadilly(Image: Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

Three doors down, there’s a sign advertising a ‘Smokers Paradise’. I enter the Euronews store and ask for an R and M Tornado vape.

“7,000 or 9,000?” the man behind the tills replies.

I plump for the 9,000, which claims to contain 18ml of liquid – nine times more than the UK legal limit – and am presented with an extensive menu listing at least 30 flavours to choose from.

I select the ‘Gummy Bear’ and pay £15 before being shown towards a counter at the back of the shop, next to a haul of smoking paraphernalia including bongs and shisha pipes.

Euro News in Piccadilly(Image: Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

There, another worker rummages behind the desk before producing the vape – its packaging emblazoned with a cartoon. By now, other customers have entered the shop and the man serving me casts an anxious glance in their direction as he hands over the product.

Unlike the other stores – where it was as easy as buying a pack of chewing gum – there’s a surreptitious feel to this transaction.

Barely 20 metres down the street, I purchase another 4,000 puff Hayati Pro Max – this time Blackcurrant Mango-flavoured – for £10 from Marhaba Newsagent.

Marhaba Newsagent in Piccadilly(Image: ABNM Photography)

In the space of less than 100 metres on one of Manchester’s busiest streets, I’ve managed to buy four illegal super-sized disposable vapes.

In the UK, there are strict rules on how much nicotine disposable vapes can contain – no more than 2ml of liquid and a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml. Any vapes with contents exceeding these amounts are illegal and should not be sold to the public, regulators say.

Industry experts say vapes falling within the legal limits offer approximately 600 vapour puffs.

But the reality is that you do not have to try particularly hard – or possess any specialist knowledge or contacts – to purchase vapes which claim to be much stronger or offer significantly more puffs. Over the course of a couple of hours, I came across numerous shops in the city centre openly selling disposable vapes which promised illicit strength levels.

On Deansgate, pavement hoardings outside Manchester Souvenirs & News advertise a range of brightly-coloured vapes. I head inside the shop – a Post Office franchise – and browse the range of vapes they have on offer.

Pavement hoardings advertise disposable vapes outside Manchester Souvenirs & News(Image: Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

After requesting something stronger, I’m directed towards a range of CBD products, as well as some of the R and M Tornado 9,000 puff mega-vapes. I go for a pineapple-flavoured version of the latter, which sets me back £14.99.

A short distance away at Taylor & Breeden Tobacco Blenders in Cross Street, I’m able to buy a ‘Sour Apple’ ENE Legend 3500, which the shopkeeper produces from a hidden compartment behind the till.

Elsewhere in the city centre, I observed the same purportedly illicit vapes I was sold on offer at other retailers, but did not make purchases.

When challenged the following day about the Hayati Pro Max vape his shop sold to me, the owner of Marhaba Newsagent claimed it did not sell the vape in question.

“We have stopped doing them,” he said. “We don’t sell anything illegal.”

The owner of Taylor & Breeden Tobacco Blenders said his shop had also stopped selling the product I purchased there.

Taylor & Breeden Tobacco Blenders, in Cross Street, was one of several shops selling super-strength vapes(Image: Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

“We don’t do it anymore,” he said. “We don’t have any illegal tobacco or cigarettes. We stopped doing it.”

The owner of Euro News refused to comment.

When challenged about the illegal vapes on sale at Vaping Mart, a worker said: “You can get them everywhere. There’s a demand.”

Meanwhile, a worker at Matadar Newsagent told the M.E.N.: “It’s every shop, not just us.”

The owner of Manchester Souvenirs & News was approached for comment.

To meet UK law, the packaging of a vape must also include information about its capacity. However, many do not and only specify a number of vapour puffs. While the industry standard for the number of puffs is about 600, it is not a legal requirement.

A range of vapes promising 9,000 puffs on display inside Manchester Souvenirs & News on Deansgate(Image: Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

However, several councils in the UK have advised against devices promising more than that amount as they are likely to contain illegal levels of nicotine. Guidance provided to corner shops by The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) also states that vapes with more than 600 puffs are “not allowed to be on the UK market”.

Last August, Greater Manchester Police issued a warning about vapes promising more than 600-700 puffs. Officers said such devices “have not been tested and can therefore be harmful to anyone using them”.

Last year, the M.E.N. can reveal that nearly 160,000 vapes were seized by Manchester City Council’s trading standards team last year.

There have long been concerns that vapes are being targeted at children as figures show that the number of teenage vapers is continuing to rise – one in five has now tried vaping, despite it being illegal for under-18s.

Research shows that half of those aged between 18 and 24 who use disposable vapes do so despite no history of smoking. Health campaigners have warned that they are being lured in by pocket money prices, with throwaway products available for as little as £3.

The six illegal vapes sold to the M.E.N.(Image: ABNM Photography)

The government argues a total ban on disposable vapes is needed to protect kids. New powers will also be introduced to restrict flavours specifically marketed at children and ensure that manufacturers produce plainer packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of children’s sight.

The vapes the M.E.N purchased are yet to be tested by Manchester’s Trading Standards but it’s understood they are ‘highly likely’ to be of concern.

Unlike legal vapes, illegal e-cigarettes are not registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and do not pass through quality control processes so may contain harmful chemicals. None of the vapes bought by the M.E.N. are registered with the MHRA.

Kate Pike, lead officer for vaping at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said each of the six vapes was illegal based on its packaging alone.

“The most important thing is we don’t know what is in them,” she said. “We don’t know how they have been made.

“They are definitely illegal. It’s unknown what is in there because they don’t have the right information and they should not be sold. They undermine the market for legitimate products.

“These particular products are very common and very, very frustrating.”

Each of the vapes promised a number of puffs significantly higher than the industry standard(Image: ABNM Photography)

She added: “In terms of adult smokers, vaping products that comply with the regulations have been found to have a fraction of the risks of smoking. With these illegal products, we don’t know the impacts. That’s the danger.”

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council said: “Illegal and non-compliant vapes are an issue which the Council takes very seriously. Through investigations carried out by the Trading Standards Team, in 2023 alone nearly 160,000 vapes were seized from premises across the city.

“Vapes are a regulated product, and as has been seen through recent national events, are soon to face further restriction.

“We would advise anyone who purchases a vaping product to check the guidelines ahead of purchase and ensure the liquid canister is within the recognised 2ml legal limit.”

The ENE Legend 3500 contains 2pc nicotine – within the legal limit – but its packaging does not reveal its tank size. The wording of its health warning also fails to meet the UK legal requirement.

The R and M Tornado vape has an 18ml tank – significantly larger than the permitted 2ml limit – but its packaging does not include information about how much nicotine it contains. Meanwhile, its health warnings do not meet legal requirements.

The packaging on the Hayati Pro Max clearly states that it contains 20mg/ml of nicotine and a 10ml tank size – more than five times the legal limit.

Reference

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