TWO Basingstoke shops were caught selling a vape to an underage Gazette reporter following an investigation, apprentice trainee Lola Crossman reports

Following growing concerns about young people having access to age-restricted products, the Gazette wanted to see if shops in our community would sell to underaged customers, without ID or any form of age verification.

Teenage vaping is a pressing issue, according to a survey from the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which shows that experimental vaping has risen to 20.5 per cent in 2023, with 7.5 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds regularly vaping.

It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to children - only people over the age of 18 can buy the products under UK law.

However, according to Trading Standards, illicit sales of vaping products are the largest threat to the UK high street this year.

I am 16-years-old and some of my underage peers living in the town vape. I wanted to find out if shops are playing their part to stop these products from getting into the hands of underaged people.

I went to six shops in total, including chain vape stores, convenience stores and anywhere else in the town centre which had vapes for sale. 

Out of the six shops, four asked for ID and I was refused purchase. However, two of the shops did not ask for ID and I was able to purchase a vape. It was no more difficult than buying a packet of sweets.

After purchasing the vape, it was handed to one of my colleagues over the age of 18, who accompanied me and waited outside the shop.

One of the shops that served me was VPZ Basingstoke, in Wote Street, which is part of a chain vape store with more than 160 branches across the UK.

The shop had signs outside the door stating that the ‘sale of nicotine products is illegal to under 18s’ and outlining a ‘Think 25’ policy, which outlines that anyone who appears to be under the age of 25 should be asked for ID, to prevent age-restricted products from being sold to those under 18.

However, these were not upheld in the shop. 

A spokesperson for VPZ said it is now working with the Basingstoke branch to "fully investigate the matter".   

They added: “VPZ is the UK’s largest vaping specialist with over 160 stores throughout the country and has helped over 700,000 adult smokers quit smoking since it was established in 2012.

“Preventing youth access is one of our guiding priorities and we have pioneered a challenge 25 policy for the industry to ensure consultation and access is focused on adult smokers.

“We work with all of our team members to implement stringent age verification procedures and regularly audit all stores with our internal audit team as well as being part of an ongoing age verification purchase testing programme conducted by the UK Vaping Industry Association.

“We take age verification extremely seriously and are now working with our Basingstoke branch to fully investigate the matter and understand what corrective actions are required.

“As the UK’s leading vaping retailer we maintain our commitment to ensuring access is focused on adult smokers and continue to implement robust and regular training initiatives on our industry-leading challenge 25 policy.”

Foyles Convenience Store, a Premier Express in London Street, at the Top of Town, also sold me a vape. Again, I walked into the shop and asked for a ‘Lost Mary’ - a type of disposable vape - and after tapping my card, I was free to leave without showing any ID or verifying my age.

A spokesperson for Foyles Convenience Store admitted that the sale was "a mistake".

He added: “We have a policy to ID people if someone asks for a vape. We don’t sell vapes to under 18s, it was the mistake of a new employee under training.

“We have reminded the staff again, to check for ID before making this kind of mistake.

“It won’t happen again, the employee will be retrained and it was a genuine mistake.”

Both shops maintain that they abide by the ‘Think 25’ policy.