Testing by BAT sent to wholesalers claims that nearly all major disposable vaping brands not produced by a major tobacco manufacturer contain illegal levels of e-liquid.
Senior wholesaler sources leaked nearly 50 pages of BAT product testing data to betterRetailing, along with a letter from BAT urging wholesalers to stop selling products it claims are failing to comply with the 2ml e-liquid limit. A distributor of many of the brands named denied the claims.
In a letter sent to wholesalers by BAT UK managing director Fredrik Svensson, seen by betterRetailing, the supplier said it had commissioned “independently accredited laboratory” testing on Elf Bar 600 products purchased from supermarkets and independent retailers between 6 September 2021 and 7 March 2023.
The evidence revealed that the tested products “contained significantly more than the legal limit of 2ml of nicotine-containing e-liquid from 2.76ml to 3.88ml, with an average overfill of 58%.”
Testing was also conducted at the same lab on Lost Mary, Found Mary, IVG Bar, Klik Klak, SKE Crystal, Smok Mbar Pro and Solo disposable vapes. Test results for all these brands showed illegal levels of e-liquid.
Read more: Regulators issue withdrawal of non-compliant Elfbar products
Together, the brands account for nearly all disposable vaping sales in independent shops by both revenue and volume.
BAT’s letter urged: “As a responsible trading partner, we trust that you are taking appropriate steps to ensure that you are not supplying non-compliant products and that you will be urgently reviewing the supply of any products you stock, particularly those which our testing demonstrates do not comply with the TRPR [The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016].”
betterRetailing has seen no evidence from regulators to support the claims these products are breaching the 2ml limit. A distributor acting on behalf of many of the brands mentioned in BAT’s report, speaking on condition of anonymity, challenged the accuracy of BAT’s data, stating they have recent testing evidence to show compliance with UK laws, and said the batches tested by BAT “could be old stock”.
Separately, Mihai Lambert from SKE Vape, suggested test results of SKE Crystal lines were not representative of its actual products, claiming that a Chinese company it had previously worked with was “stealing our information” and it would be approaching them “to compensate us for the loss of reputation”.
The BAT letter stated that a large number of non-compliant Elf Bar 600 products were tested on and after 10 February. On 6 Feb, the Daily Mail published an investigation which revealed a number of Elf Bar 600 lines stocked by supermarkets broke the legal e-liquid requirement, sparking a wave of regulatory action and recalls.
Read more: Two illegal vapes were sold every minute in London last year
Svensson continued: “The sharp proliferation of illegal vaping products continues to undermine the trust and credibility established with regulators and consumers for vaping as a category.
“We need to work together to address the risk and ensure the opportunity of transforming the UK market is fully realised.”
BAT stated that the results of tests have been shared with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA). A trading standards source claimed to betterRetailing that a “different letter” from BAT had been sent to “all local authorities”. A senior trading standards source also said that local trading standards had also received a copy of BAT’s findings.
Senior wholesale sources welcomed BAT’s efforts to “clean up” the disposable vaping market, but also challenged the claims made, stating they would wait on independent testing and regulatory guidance before taking action. The sources also claimed the action by BAT could likely see the tobacco firm’s share of the lucrative disposable vaping market “sky rocket” if regulatory enforcement against its rivals follows.
Asked to comment on the leak, a BAT spokesperson told RN: “BAT UK conducts regular testing via an independent accredited laboratory on publicly available products across the vapour category as part of routine competitor and category trend analysis. Where we discover apparent compliance issues, we consider it can be constructive to share this independently certified evidence with our trade partners, regulators and enforcement agencies. At BAT, we are committed to building A Better Tomorrow™ by reducing the health impact of our business.
“As one of the market-leading producers of vaping products, BAT UK is committed to ensuring a fair, sustainable, and socially responsible marketplace. Vaping offers adult smokers a real and compelling alternative to smoking. However, the switch to these alternative products can only be realised with a vapour category that is trusted by consumers. The worryingly widespread availability of illegal vaping products within the UK will only slow down the number of adult smokers feeling confident to choose vaping as an alternative, preventing the UK Government from achieving its Smokefree 2030 target. The sustainability of the vapour category should therefore be of paramount concern for all responsible retailers and manufacturers alike by only supplying and offering for sale products that are legally compliant.”
The vaping manufacturers mentioned by BAT have been approached for comment
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