Criminal gangs are fuelling an “exponential growth” in use of vapes among Norfolk children, experts have warned.

Trading Standards officers at Norfolk County Council are alarmed at how many e-cigarettes are being sold to under-18s and have pledged to crack down on shops illegally selling the items.

Officers hope to secure extra government cash to tackle the problem, and want to get tougher by closing down shops that repeatedly break the law.

They say the use of the items in Norfolk has "exploded" in the last year and that "organised criminal gangs" are supplying the trade through certain shops.

Eastern Daily Press: Some of the vapes seized from Norfolk shopsSome of the vapes seized from Norfolk shops (Image: Norfolk Trading Standards)

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled council's infrastructure and development select committee on Wednesday (May 17).

James Bensly, committee chairman, said: "The matter of kids now that are vaping I have really big concerns about."

Eastern Daily Press: James BenslyJames Bensly (Image: James Bensly)

Sophie Leney, the council's head of Trading Standards, said: "Vaping has absolutely exploded this last year across the country. Vape sales have just escalated and there are underage sales.

"There's a lot of online misinformation that is encouraging youngsters to try vaping as if it isn't a problem."

The sale of vapes in the UK is restricted to over 18s, but their use by teenagers has soared locally in recent months.

New figures this week show that, nationally, the number of children trying vaping rose by 50pc last year.

Experts say children are being targeted by e-cigarette companies, with bright packaging, exotic flavours and enticing names.

Doctors have warned of the potential long-term effects of vaping on the lungs, and are calling for tighter rules on packaging and advertising.

For Trading Standards, the issue is exacerbated by certain shops breaking the law and selling to children, and the market being flooded with 'illegal' vapes, supplied by criminal networks, which do not meet safety criteria and often have too much nicotine in them.

Ms Leney presented a report which outlines the department's anxiety about illegal vapes and sales of vapes to children.

Eastern Daily Press: Sophie Leney, head of Trading Standards at Norfolk County CouncilSophie Leney, head of Trading Standards at Norfolk County Council (Image: Norfolk County Council)

It states: "Whilst vapes remain an effective smoking cessation device, during the 2022/23 period, the service has seen an exponential growth in the receipt of reports of both underage sales of vapes and sales of illegal vapes.

"Very often the two issues go together, with business unconcerned with the illegality of the vape products they supply also unconcerned with any age restriction that should be applied."

READ MORE: Illegal vapes and tobacco seized in raid

By the end of September last year, there had been reports of such sales at 53 premises in Norfolk, compared to just eight in the whole of the previous year.

Inspections have led to the "notable seizures" of 2,800 illegal vapes, including in Norwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Swaffham.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquartersNorfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters (Image: Mike Page)

But County Hall officers said: "Whilst the service will continue to undertake enforcement action against those businesses who perpetrate underage sales of illegal tobacco and/or illegal vapes, by seizing such products and pursuing the criminal prosecution of those involved, it is becoming ever more apparent that such action is effective only in temporarily disrupting rather than stopping such criminal behaviour, where those associated with the premises in question are determined to continue.

"It is now not uncommon for the service to undertake successive seizures at certain business premises, particularly those suspected of being associated with organised criminal gangs.

"It is often the case that the service, having undertaken a seizure, will shortly afterwards receive intelligence that the premises has restocked with illegal product soon after."

Eastern Daily Press: Vapes seized by Trading Standards officersVapes seized by Trading Standards officers (Image: Norfolk County Council)

To tackle that, officers are working with Norfolk police and councils to develop a new enforcement approach - one which allow them to force the closure of shops caught breaking the law for up to three months.

Council documents state: "The continued development and implementation of this
enforcement approach will be a key priority for the service during 2023 to 24 and will be pivotal to the success of tackling those premises that persist in the supply of illegal tobacco and vapes."

Eastern Daily Press: Trading Standards officers are concerned over the sale of illegal vapes in NorfolkTrading Standards officers are concerned over the sale of illegal vapes in Norfolk (Image: Press Association)

Trading Standards officers also pledged to work with the landlords of properties used for the supply or storage of illegal tobacco and vapes to try to evict tenants which keep breaking the law.

Another issue is the sale of illegal vapes. Among those seized are vapes where the liquid capacity is higher than the legal limit and the nicotine strength exceeding limits.

A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: "Tackling the rise in the number of illegal vapes and tobacco products is a priority for our Trading Standards team.

"These products haven’t been through the safety checks that legal products have, and don’t carry the CE or UKCA safety markings.

"Often, these illegal vapes will contain more nicotine than allowed, which poses a danger to users.

"In order to ensure that you’re buying a genuine product, look out for the safety markings, and make sure that the capacity of the device is less than two millilitres."

People who spot illegal products being sold are urged to report them on the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline on 0800 144 8848.


The use of vapes among teens has been described as a 'new pandemic' by experts.

Statistics released this week shows there has been a 50pc rise in the last year in the proportion of children trying vaping.

The data for Great Britain shows a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7pc last year to 11.6pc this year.

It is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s but social media carries posts from teenagers showing vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry, banana and mango.

Experts have warned previously how the new generation of disposable vapes known as “puff bars” – which contain nicotine – have flooded the market.

This is borne out by the latest survey, with Elf Bar being the most popular brand of disposable among children who vape, followed by Lost Mary, Elux, Geek Bar and Crystal.

The study, commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), will be submitted as part of the government’s call for evidence on measures to reduce the number of children accessing vaping.

When asked why they vape, 40pc of youngsters said they just wanted to give them a try, while 19pc used them because they wanted to join in with others, and 14pc said they like the flavours.

Nearly three-quarters (73pc) of youngsters said their first vape was given to them, two-thirds by a friend, but for children who currently vape, nearly three-quarters (72pc) said they usually buy their vapes, most commonly from a corner shop (26pc).

Other places where vapes are bought by children include petrol stations or petrol station shops (9.4pc) and online (7.6pc).

When it comes to awareness of vapes being on sale, children were most aware of promotions in shops, up from 37pc last year to 53pc in 2023.

Online awareness has also risen (from 24pc to 32pc), while awareness via buses stood at 11pc.

Asked about online awareness, children who had seen vapes promoted online said they had seen them on TikTok (49pc), YouTube (29pc), Instagram (28pc) and Snapchat (24pc).


The increase in the number of children who have tried vaping makes alarming reading, as do the figures which suggest rising numbers of Norfolk retailers are flouting the law by selling the devices to youngsters.

Trading Standards officers at Norfolk County Council say the vaping market has "exploded" over the past year, while new figures show a 50pc rise in the last 12 months in the proportion of children who have tried e-cigarettes.

Parents are worried that their children are picking up the habit, having seen vapes being promoted on social media such as TikTok and Instagram.

In Norfolk, watchdogs at Trading Standards say there are unscrupulous retailers who are more than happy to sell the products - many of which use brightly coloured pack displays - to children.

And some of those shops have links to criminal gangs, Trading Standards bosses say, so these sales are helping to fund further illegal activity.

Seen as more socially acceptable, children who might otherwise not have tried cigarettes are prepared to give vaping - with its fruit flavours - a go.

They were invented as a smoking cessation device and have an extremely useful role to play in encouraging smokers to quit a habit which can kill them.

But these devices were not initially created with children in mind, which is precisely why a law exists which is supposed to prevent sales to them.

It is welcome news that Norfolk's Trading Standards team is cracking down on retailers which do sell to children, although they clearly have a fight on their hands to stamp out those which repeatedly break the law over underage sales and illegal vapes.

Officers say, with criminal gangs often behind these retailers selling to children, once illegal vapes are seized, they simply open up again after restocking shortly afterwards.

The idea of closure orders, preventing them from opening for up to three months, would be a good deterrent to those retailers which do not get the message.

We look forward to them being used in Norfolk.