Parents fear vape shops target children

VAPOUR TRAIL: Disposable vapes collected by Southborough SAS

PARENTS are calling for “urgent action” over concerns that more children will be encouraged to take up vaping following the opening of a new vape shop in Tunbridge Wells, just a short distance from a local secondary school.

The new shop opening in London Road, Southborough, is less than a five-minute walk from St Gregory’s Catholic School and en route for many children walking to schools in the St John’s area.

Vaping among teenagers has risen dramatically over the past year, with a 50 per cent increase year-on-year in children experimenting with vaping. Recent NHS figures showed that nine per cent of 11 to 15-year-old children had used e-cigarettes.

One parent, whose child goes to a secondary school in the St John’s area, said they are “disappointed” that the vape shop had been allowed and wants to see the marketing of vapes to children stopped.

They told the Times: “I was so disappointed to see that the local council and a local landlord has allowed a vape shop to be opened literally on the school route for thousands of school children to pass every day.”

“As the parent of a teenager who does vape, I’m doing my very best to discourage them, but I’m up against a marketing tsunami aimed directly at the age group that, ironically, it’s illegal to directly sell to.”

The most popular vape brand among children, the ‘Elf Bar’, offers a range of vapes arguably targeted at the younger market with bold, colourful packaging and appealing, fruity flavours such as ‘Pink Lemonade’, ‘Watermelon’ and ‘Blueberry Sour’.

Originally sold as an effective means to helping tobacco smokers quit, evidence shows that since 2020, vaping amongst those who have never smoked is more common in children than adults.

When asked about a vape shop opening less than a kilometre from a school, Trading Standards told the Times that they cannot prohibit a vape shop from opening in a particular location and that there are “no restrictions” on any business that wishes to set up a vape shop.

However, Kent County Council (KCC) has called on the Government to ban disposable vapes, over fears of their impact on children and the environment.

County Cllr Mark Hood (Green) for Tonbridge said: “I am delighted that the County Council has recognised the threat posed by disposable vapes to public health, especially to children and to our environment. It is illegal to sell vapes to those under 18.

“Nothing less than a complete ban will resolve this problem.”

Mr Edward Wesson, Headmaster of The Skinners’ School on St. John’s Road told the Times: “Selling vapes to under-18s is illegal, so if all shops were prepared to follow the law, and then authorities were prepared to enforce it, the issue of vaping among teenagers would not be endemic.

“If locally we can be supported by the Borough Council and the police to control how young people get to buy vapes, and I am sure we can, then the issue will be at least mitigated.”

The concern is not limited to the sale of vapes to young people. The environmental damage and littering of vapes, which contain flammable lithium-ion batteries, is a deep concern among many.

Research shows that 1.3 million disposable vapes are discarded each week – enough to fill 22 football pitches each year.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service Station Manager Alan Standing said that the batteries inside vapes pose a “serious fire risk if not disposed of correctly”.

In the UK, batteries disposed of incorrectly caused more than 700 fires in bin lorries and recycling centres.

Leonie Barker, of Southborough SOS, which helps keep the streets of the area clean, described the vape-litter along St John’s Road and London Road. She said: “We lose count of what we pick up, it’s endless. They are literally everywhere, thrown from car windows, shoved in hedges or discarded in woodland.”

To report illicit vapes or under-age sales to Kent Trading Standards, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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