Watchdogs say they are "deeply concerned" children as young as 12 are increasingly being illegally sold vaping products in Norfolk.

Alarmed Trading Standards officers say there has been a worrying increase in reports of shops selling e-cigarettes to children - when it is illegal to sell them to under-18s.

They are particularly concerned that some disposable e-cigarettes are being designed specifically to appeal to children and young people, with colourful packaging and fruity flavours emulating popular confectionery brands.

Officers at Norfolk County Council have carried out a number of underage test purchases at various locations across the county, in response to rising reports of specialist shops, convenience stores and corner shops selling the products.

Eastern Daily Press: Seized e-cigarettesSeized e-cigarettes (Image: Norfolk County Council)

And last year they seized hundreds of disposable e-cigarettes which had contents and packaging which failed to meet strict UK regulations.

Vapes and e-cigarettes and their refill containers are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and must comply with tank capacity and nicotine strength limits, while their labels must display manufacturer details and health warnings.

Inspections of shops in Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth last year revealed thousands were on sale which did not meet those regulations - and officials fear some are finding their way into the hands of children.

A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: "We are deeply concerned about the rise in intelligence regarding the sale of vapes to children under the age of 18.

"We take the issue of underage sales of all age-restricted products, like vapes, tobacco, and alcohol, incredibly seriously.

"We act on intelligence gathered from a variety of sources and follow a staged approach to enforcement, which may result in prosecution."

Eastern Daily Press: Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for communities and partnershipsMargaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for communities and partnerships (Image: Archant)

Margaret Dewsbury, the council's cabinet member for communities and partnerships, urged people who spot retailers selling products to children to report them.

She said: "Unfortunately by unscrupulous traders making underage sales these products can cause harm to children in our communities.

"If consumers wish to report businesses for selling illegal products or selling age restricted products to under-age children they can do so to our partners at Citizens Advice consumer helpline on freephone 0808 223 1133."


Unscrupulous retailers

Studies have shown vaping is less harmful than cigarettes in the short to medium term and smokers have been encouraged to switch to vapes.

But experts have called for a crackdown on the sale of vapes to children, with a review last year concluding little was known about the long-term impact of e-cigarettes on health or on those who had not previously smoked.

Eastern Daily Press: Some e-cigarettes look like highlighter pensSome e-cigarettes look like highlighter pens (Image: Norfolk County Council)

John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: "While we recognise that vaping can be a useful quitting aid for smokers, we are worried about increasing breaches of the law, with many non-compliant devices being sold on the UK’s high streets.

"There is also an increasing problem with vaping products being sold to children in many general retail premises such as mobile phone shops, gift shops and convenience stores.

"Trading Standards teams are doing vital work by cracking down on the unscrupulous retailers who are selling these products to young people without the legally required age verification checks.

"It is important that vaping products comply with rules that were established to safeguard public health, and that they do not end up in the hands of children."

Research published in July found the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many being influenced by social media sites such as TikTok.


'They should take them off the shelves': A mother's story

Last year, Great Yarmouth mother Holly Smith called for action on the sale of illegal e-cigarettes to children after her 11-year-old daughter was taken to hospital after vaping.

Eastern Daily Press: Holly Smith's daughter ended up in hospital after vapingHolly Smith's daughter ended up in hospital after vaping (Image: Holly Smith)

Miss Smith said her daughter became extremely lethargic and could hardly stand after trying the vape. She had to be taken by ambulance to Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital.

Miss Smith said she was aware of children as young as nine routinely buying vapes from unscrupulous retailers.

She said: "I do not understand why they are so available. I think it is disgusting. They should take them off the shelves and hide them like they do cigarettes. They should not be within arm's reach."