With a UK-wide public consultation currently in progress around vaping, SLR and SGF have joined forces to help Scotland’s local retailers make sure that they are selling vaping products responsibly to send a clear message to the Government that extreme legislation is not required.
By Antony Begley
In the last couple of years, the importance of the vaping category to Scotland’s local retailers has grown immeasurably. From a once-niche category to one that accounts for 30% and more of some retailers’ total turnover, vaping is now mission critical for the sector.
Not only is vaping widely accepted to be far less harmful than tobacco – Public Health England is on record saying it’s 95% less harmful – it’s also one of the most effective ways of helping people quit cigarettes.
But the current boom period for vaping is suffering from some major weaknesses: youth access and environmental impact. And it’s these issues that have attracted the attention of both the Scottish and UK Governments.
The Scottish Government first announced on 5 September that it was considering a ban on disposable vaping products, as part of a wider public health and environment protection plan. The ‘Programme for Government’ outlined “a commitment to take action to reduce vaping among non-smokers and young people and to tackle the environmental impact of single-use vapes”.
Even in its initial public statement, however, the Scottish Government acknowledged that “action on single use vapes is likely to require [an] exclusion from the Internal Market Act”. In other words, the same type of exclusion it notoriously failed to secure for its planned Deposit Return Scheme.
This means that the issue will be taken up on a UK-wide basis by the UK Government and, indeed, the Department of Health & Social Care published a UK-wide eight-week public consultation on 12 October.
Entitled ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping,’ it sets out a range of options to reduce vape product availability and appeal to young people including action around flavours, POS displays and packaging. It also covers the possibility of “restricting the supply and sale of disposable vapes”. An outright ban on disposable vapes is very much on the table.
Thus far, much of the activity highlighted by major vaping producers centres around the importance of vaping as a smoking cessation tool – but the wording of the consultation makes it plain that the key topics, certainly as far as the government is concerned, are youth access and environmental impact.
So, what can local retailers do to play their part in influencing the outcomes of this consultation? That’s a question that SLR is addressing in association with the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF), with a joint campaign to help retailers do the right thing when it comes to vaping and provide evidence to the Government that our sector is committed to responsible retailing of vape products and is committed to tackling the key challenges – without the need for extreme legislative intervention.
1. Youth Access
The solution to eliminating under-age access to vaping products is simple: we are asking all local retailers in Scotland to adopt a ‘Challenge 25’ policy. We know it works in other age-restricted categories like tobacco and alcohol so there’s no reason why it won’t work for vaping products.
Indeed, in the last issue of SLR we provided you with a Challenge 25 kit that gave you everything you need to implement a Challenge 25 policy including training records, a Refusals Register and a Sales Authorisation Record.
2. Environmental Impact
This will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge for the local retailing sector in Scotland. It is estimated that around 15 million disposable vapes are sold every week in the UK – and that figure only includes legitimately sold product. The real number is likely to be two or three times higher.
Many of the major vape producers are working hard to ensure that their products are almost entirely recyclable, but that only helps if used vapes are actually fed back into the system to be recycled. At the moment, it is estimated that only around five million vapes are recycled per year.
SGF is currently running a pilot programme to introduce vape recycling bins into stores across Scotland. The first phase saw a total of 20 SGF member stores from across Scotland participating in the scheme.
SGF Chief Executive Pete Cheema OBE said: “A key focus for both SGF and SLR is the promotion of responsible community retailing. We recognise that single-use vapes can be extremely effective for those quitting smoking, but they must stop appearing in our streets and parks. Stores participating in the pilot will be able to offer customers a return point in-store through a recycling bin for used vapes and retailers will be provided with a convenient waste and recycling option as part of this.”
Participating stores are having their used vapes collected by Recover, a UK lithium battery recycling company, to responsibly handle the discarded devices. The products are then 100% disassembled to ensure the raw materials are properly dismantled and recycled, including plastics and the battery.
With the UK Government set to receive the findings of the consultation in the near future and begin actively considering how to effectively tackle the major issues of youth access and environmental impact, retailers can be very sure that the vital role played by vaping in keeping retailing businesses profitable will not be near the top of the agenda.
We have a very small window of opportunity as a sector to demonstrate our willingness to tackle these issues on our own without the need for heavy-handed legislative intervention.
Pete Cheema concluded: “It is vital that we show the Government that we are retailing responsibly, that we are aware of the issues and that we are tackling them for the benefit of the communities that we serve across Scotland. Vaping is a hugely important category to many SGF member stores and, working with SLR, we want to do all that we can to protect that category – but that will mean continuing to work hard on eliminating youth access and minimising the environmental impact.
“We are all well aware of the problems of the illicit trade, particularly in regard to youth access, and we urge the Government to provide the resources required to clamp down on illicit traders. Our sector, meanwhile, will continue to retail responsibly and we will redouble our efforts to make recycling of vaping products widely and easily accessible for all.”