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7 April 2017, 05:34
Almost nine in 10 of Britain's vape shops are willing to sell e-cigarettes to non-smokers, against the industry code of conduct, the results of an undercover investigation suggest.
Concerns have been raised that non-smokers could become addicted to nicotine if they start vaping.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is urging vape shops to stick by the voluntary code of conduct, which states they should not knowingly sell vape products to anyone who does not or has not smoked before.
The organisation investigated 100 of the 1,700 specialist vape shops in England, Scotland and Wales and said they found 87% are either knowingly or unwittingly prepared to sell e-cigarettes to people who have never smoked or vaped.
Just under half of the stores did not check whether the customers had smoked before, and three quarters of those that did still encouraged non-smokers to start vaping, the RSPH claimed.
Footage from their investigation showed one retailer recommending a customer, who told him she did not smoke, choose a vaping liquid with 6mg nicotine content rather than 0mg.
He told her: "The nicotine does affect how much of like a hit you get at the back of your throat, so if you want a bit of that, I'd say go for a 6.''
Other footage did show a retailer telling a non-smoking customer he would not "want to get you hooked to something'' and advising him against buying the product.
RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said e-cigarettes must be seen as "evidence-based quitting aids - rather than lifestyle products'' and should be aimed only at smokers.
She said: "We applaud the IBVTA (Independent British Vape Trade Association) code of conduct, which is in line with this principle.
"However, as our investigation shows, the majority of vape shops in the UK are not adhering to these important standards. We are keen to support the sector to strengthen their codes of best practice, and for individual retailers to sign up and ultimately adhere to them.''
The body, which has released a paper on steps to target e-cigarettes specifically to smokers, suggested there could also be business rates relief for smaller shops to stop selling tobacco products, and called for an end to the advertising of such items in trade publications.
Richard Hyslop, chief executive of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, said: "Vape products should not be marketed to non-smokers or those under the age of 18.
"However, figures produced by organisations such as the Office for National Statistics and Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) demonstrate that over 90% of vapers in the UK are adult current or former smokers, therefore we do not believe this to be a significant problem.''