Two in five retailers are selling e-cigarettes to children, a nationwide test purchasing project has found.

However, of the 634 stores tested by children aged 14-17, newsagents and convenience stores were the most compliant with the law.

A third of them illegally sold an e-cigarette product, while up to 68% of visits to alternative sources including independent pharmacies, specialist e-cigarette shops and discount stores resulted in illegal sales.

One in five of those who sold to a child had also previously made an illegal sale of another age-restricted product.

David Worsfold, owner of Farrants in Cobham, Surrey, urged fellow retailers to sell e-cigarettes with the same caution as traditional tobacco products.

“We sell them under the same regime we use for tobacco products, and all of our staff are trained in compliance with the correct legislation,” he said.

“It’s just another thing retailers need to add to the list of age-restricted products.”

Illegal sales were highest in the North West, where 59% of retailers sold an e-cigarette product to an under-18. The lowest rate was recorded in London with 19% of retailers carrying out illegal sales. 

NFRN chief executive Paul Baxter said: “We constantly remind members and their staff to adopt Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 procedures and to ensure that any refusals are documented.

“While it is disappointing that 40% of retailers were caught selling e-cigarettes and vaping liquids to under 18s just 10 months after it was made illegal, it was reassuring to note that the fewest sales were made by newsagents and convenience stores.”