Trading Standards - Age restricted products
Information about age restrictions for products and how they protect the underage person.
Age restricted sales
- advice for parents and young people
- advice for business
- taking steps to prevent underage sales
Electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes or vaporisers, are battery-powered devices that mimic the action of smoking, offering nicotine (in most cases), but without the toxic effect of tobacco smoke. They have been in the UK since 2007 and are very popular with children.
Read this useful guide about vaping and e-cigarettes: the facts for parents and carers (PDF)
- further guidance material is available from Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Business Companion website
- watch this useful video on Age Restricted Sales Advice to Business
- don’t put your livelihood at risk sign up to our free training and stay on the right side of the law by subscribing to our free online training
Advice for parents and young people
Many parents worry about their children smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs. When is the right time to talk to your children? Young people may also want advice about these subjects and may find it difficult to talk to their parents. The information below gives lots of advice and information to help, we have also included some web links which provide further information.
Tackling Underage Sales
Age restrictions for products are brought in by the Government to protect the underage person. The impact of underage drinking and smoking can be devastating on the health and development of the individual.
It is a criminal offence to sell an age-restricted product to someone who is underage. The punishment can be a fine of up to £5000 or 6 months imprisonment.
Communities can also be badly affected, particularly by underage drinking which can often lead to anti-social behaviour and a fear of crime. Worcestershire County Council Trading Standards Service works with West Mercia Police and other departments within the Council to tackle these issues.
Trading Standards test purchasing volunteers
The Service carries out test purchases to check retailers are complying with the law and not selling age-restricted products to underage persons. These exercises involve a young person attempting to buy an age-restricted product such as alcohol, tobacco, solvents, knives or spray paints
This would be an excellent opportunity for those considering a career in ‘enforcement’ whether it be for the Police or another agency. It can also illustrate ‘community service’ for those doing Duke of Edinburgh awards and similar schemes, and can be used as evidence of key skills for job applications and university entrance forms.
All volunteers will be trained in what to say and do on the exercises and will be supervised by an officer at all times.
If you are aged between 14 and 16 and a half years old and would be interested in carrying out test purchases under the watchful eye of the Trading Standards Team, please get in touch using the 'Contact' details provided.
Reporting Underage Sales
If you have witnessed the sale of age-restricted products, or believe a business is selling age-restricted products illegally, please get in touch using the 'Contact' details provided. All contact will be treated in confidence.
Links for parents and young people:
Sales advice for business
The Trading Standards Service is responsible for enforcing underage sales, this is addressed by inspection visits to businesses and the provision of advice and guidance, the investigation of complaints and undertaking test purchasing operations using underage volunteers in line with the test purchasing code of practice.
General guidance on the sale of age restricted products
There are laws that restrict the sale of certain products and services to underage people This guide introduces you to these age-restricted products and services and the minimum age of the young people you can legally sell them to. You will also find essential information on what you can do to prevent the sale of age-restricted products and services to underage people and stay on the right side of the law.
Minimum legal age
There are many laws that deal with the sale of age-restricted products and services. Some products such as alcohol and fireworks require you to obtain a licence before you can legally sell them. To help you to work out which laws you need to comply with, first check the table below to see if there are any products or services you sell or intend to sell that are age restricted and what the age restriction is.
|adult fireworks and sparklers
|knives / axes / blades
|lighter refills containing butane
|lottery tickets / 'instant win' cards
|nicotine inhaling products
|party poppers and similar (except Christmas crackers)
|video recordings (dependent upon classification)
|video games dependent upon PEGI rating
Taking steps to prevent underage sales
To keep within the law and therefore satisfy the legal defences, you must introduce an age verification policy and have effective systems to prevent sales to persons under the minimum legal age.
These systems should be regularly monitored and updated as necessary to identify and put right any problems or weaknesses, or to keep pace with any advances in technology.
Key best practice features of an effective system include the following:
Age verification checks
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs' Council support the UK's national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), which includes various card issuers.
You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age.
A passport or photocard driving licence can also be accepted, but make sure that the card matches the person using it and the date of birth shows they are 18 or over.
Military identification cards can be used as proof of age but, as with other forms of identification, make sure the photo matches the person presenting the card and check the date of birth.
Some young people may present false identification cards, so it is advisable to also check the look and feel of a card. For example, the PASS hologram should be an integral part of a PASS card and not an add-on.
If the person cannot prove they are 18 or over, or if you are in any doubt, then the sale should be refused.
Worcestershire County Council Trading Standards Service recommends the use of Challenge 25 policies for all age restricted sales.
Operate a Challenge 25 policy
This means that if the person appears to be under 25, they will be asked to verify that they are 18 or over by showing valid proof of age.
Make sure your staff are properly trained.
They should know which products are age restricted, what the age restriction is and the action they must take if they believe a person under is attempting to buy.
It is important that you can prove your staff have understood what is required of them under the legislation.
This can be done by keeping a record of the training and asking members of staff to sign to say that they have understood it. These records should then be checked and signed on a regular basis by management or the owner.
Disposable vapes with a tank size greater than 2ml are not legal to sell in the UK
Most disposable vapes state they have 600 ‘puffs’ for one simple reason. In the UK, tobacco and related products regulations 2016 mean nicotine inhaling devices which includes e-cigarettes, single use vape or ‘puff’ bars cannot have more than a 2ml liquid capacity.
This limits the amount of nicotine containing liquid in each device, which limits the ‘puffs’ to around 600 per device.
Sometimes these products do not have their capacity marked on them in ml but only specify a number of puffs.
However, if you already have stock that only provides the capacity in puffs (for example ELUX Legend 3500 and ELUX Max 4000 devices) then please note that any device stating that it contains more than 600 puffs is likely to be over-sized and liable for seizure if found on sale.
The maximum nicotine content of any type of e-cigarette be it a re-fillable or a disposable device is 2% (or 20 mg/ml in liquid form). Devices with a nicotine content higher than 2% cannot be sold in the UK.
Please be aware that many manufacturers, for example Geek Bar, produce different versions of the same brand/flavour for different markets around the world where the legal limit may be above 20 mg/ml (i.e. the USA where the limit is higher typically 5% - 50 mg/ml.
You must make sure that any stock you order, particularly if you are ordering online, is intended for supply to the UK market.
Many people search for and buy larger disposable vapes that offer up to 1500, 3000, 3500 puffs. However, these are often imported and sold without being tested or licensed with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (see www.gov.uk and search for ‘licensing nicotine’).
There is no way to tell if they are safe to use. Trading standards have been removing these devices from shelves across the UK.
What happens if I sell products that don’t comply with these regulations?
Products that are non-compliant with the legislation are liable to be seized by Trading Standards. If you are found offering non-compliant products for sale, then this is likely to amount to a criminal offence. If prosecuted and found guilty, you could face an unlimited fine and even imprisonment for up to 2 years. We therefore recommend that you ensure that any products you wish to sell meet the above requirements prior to stocking them.
Check your shelves and remove and dispose of all illegal vaping products safely.
Electrical retailer obligations
Retailers of vapes have a legal responsibility to take back customers old vaping products and to advise customers that they offer this service.
These items are electrical items with batteries and cannot be placed in the normal waste collections and need to be recycled with electrical items.
All retailers selling electrical devices (including vapes) need to provide a way for customers buying new electrical devices to dispose of their old electrical devices on a like-for-like basis:
- regardless of how you sell the products, whether direct or by internet, mail order or telephone.
- you must take back items that have the same function, regardless of brand. E.g. take back a customer’s old vape when they buy a new one
- you have 3 options to offer this take-back service to your customer
- provide a free, in store, take back service (join a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) or transport the waste yourself by registering as a waste carrier as vapes are a hazardous waste material) All vapes must be taken to an approved collection point. You must keep records of anything you collect and dispose of.
- set up an alternative, free take back service
- join the Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS) - if you sell electricals worth less than £100,000. You will pay a fee and this will fulfil your obligations until 31/12/2023. You will need to keep a record of what information you give your customers about where they should take their waste electrical items
If you fail to comply with the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations, you can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000 at a magistrates’ court, or get an unlimited fine from a Crown Court.
Anything with a plug, battery and cable should always be recycled.
Hidden batteries inside can cause fires if crushed or damaged.