Why TikTok has become a magnet for unscrupulous vape retailers

It’s getting harder out there for unscrupulous vape retailers to sell fake vapes to underage customers. Trading Standards in the UK have been busy lately – recent operations in London and Coventry seized thousands of illegal vapes from retailers, so it’s perhaps not surprising that we are seeing a trend in illegal sales activity away from more traditional retail routes.

TikTok, the quick-fire video social platform which is hugely popular with teens, is an example of a channel being used for underage sales. Vape retailer, Vape Club looked at TikTok accounts for the hugely popular Elf Bar product. It found that from March to September 2022, the number of people following unofficial Elf Bar accounts rose by 15%, to more than 650,000.

According to TalkingRetail, TikTok, does seem to be cracking down on this growing issue, as the hundreds of promotional accounts available to children at the being of this year have been cut by two-thirds. The problem, however, remains untackled on many other social media sites.

Vape Club director and founding member of the UK Vaping Industry Association Dan Marchant stated so many fake social media accounts pose as retailers. “Not only will unscrupulous people sell vaping products to underage users this way, but the products themselves might not even be genuine,” he points out. “Worse still, these fake products could be dangerous.”

Reputable sellers, he emphasises, have safeguards in place to ensure that children can’t buy vaping products. “For instance, we conduct full digital age verification on every new customer before we allow an order to go out the door.”

He believes that regulations in the UK – where sellers can be fined up to £2500 if they are caught selling to underage customers – need to be more widely enforced. “When illegal vaping products are widely available, or when vapes get into the hands of kids, the vaping industry gets blamed,” he says. “Yet the responsible side of the industry are literally begging for the authorities to enforce the regulations and take serious action against the businesses flouting the rules.”

A licensing scheme is needed, he believes, to ensure that every retailer complies with age verification tests can be applied to every retailer. And he’s like to see higher fines applied to every breach. “The UKVIA (UK Vaping Industry Association) is calling for the fines to be raised to at least £10,000, which would be a real deterrent.”

And social media sites could, of course, do more to crack down on the fake vape sellers to help protect their underage and vulnerable user base – Facebook, for example, doesn’t allow any vape advertising at all. That would leave even fewer places for the criminals to sell – and help to drive business to the responsible retailers with strict age verification systems in place, where customers know they are getting the top-quality and entirely legal product.

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