PM visits Kent Scientific Services to discuss action on illegal vapes

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has visited Kent Scientific Services, KCC’s public analysis operation at West Malling, as part of a new government campaign to crack down on illegal vapes.

After a briefing on the efforts being made by KCC Trading Standards to tackle the sale of vapes to under-18s and the importation of dangerous vaping products into the country, Mr Sunak took a practical lesson in how they are tested in the laboratory.

With the help of scientists Punil Sanatcumar and Mark Norfolk, the Prime Minster tested some of the vapes, checking in particular the volumes they contained and analysing the precise ingredients.

Mr Sanatcumar demonstrated the unique process he had developed for quantifying the precise level of nicotine in the items.

Mark Rolfe, the Head of Kent Scientific Services, outlined the work of the facility, which provides a resource for other local authorities, including port health authorities, as well as private industry.

The Prime Minister, who was accompanied on his visit by the government’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty, described KSS as “a centre of excellence” and at the front line of testing, providing vital information in the campaign to tackle illegal vaping.

He gave brief details of a “hit squad” being established to tackle the problem of sales to under-18s and promised to close a legal loophole which allows retailers to give away free samples to children. As the father of two teenage daughters, it was a matter close to his heart, he said.

Professor Whitty said the decision to close the loophole was a “very welcome step”. But he warned: “While vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping.”

Steve Rock, the Head of KCC Trading Standards told the PM that his team had already seized half a million illegal vapes as they entered the country, and he welcomed funding from KCC’s Public Health Team to allow his officers to work with local businesses in an initiative similar to Kent’s Community Alcohol Partnership.

He said legitimate and responsible retailers were keen to comply with the law and he said legal vapes were not a target for a crackdown as it was accepted that they assist smokers of traditional tobacco to give up or cut down.

The outlets for the sale of illegal vapes, especially to young people, tended to be businesses that had no experience of selling age restricted products which could include boot fairs and discount stores.

KCC Leader Roger Gough said the Prime Minister's visit helped shine a light on the work of two services - Trading Standards and Kent Scientific Services -  who rarely receive the credit they deserve.

"Both are at the forefront of protecting the health and safety of Kent residents in ways that are not necessarily obvious.  I am delighted that their efforts in the sale of dangerous and illegal vapes  has been recognised at this high level."