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Jordan North investigates the UK’s vaping phenomenon


Jordan North investigates the UK’s vaping phenomenon

Research shows lead found in illegal vapes has nearly doubled in the last year…

Exclusive data from Inter Scientific, who test illegal vapes seized by Trading Standards across the country, has revealed that 29% of illegal vapes tested in their latest sample contained lead. This is almost double what was found last year (15% in 2023).

Lead is a toxic metal. The World Health Organisation says high levels of lead exposure in young people can affect the development of the brain and nervous system.

In a new documentary for BBC Three and iPlayer, Jordan North speaks to the team at Inter Scientific about the proliferation of illegal vapes across the UK, as he investigates what’s really in the vapes we use.

Jordan North: The Truth About Vaping is on BBC Three at 9pm and is available on BBC iPlayer now.

The illegal vape products have high levels of metals and they have high levels of carbonyls as well.”

“Carbonyls are formed when the liquid is heated up, these can include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and are potentially carcinogenic substances”, says Tom Coleman from Inter Scientific.

The research from Inter Scientific also found that 87% of the sample of illegal vapes they tested had high levels of nickel. Nickel is a metal and prolonged exposure to it can be harmful to your health.

For those using vapes to cut down on nicotine, there is also cause for concern. Of the vapes marketed as ‘Zero Percent Nicotine’ that were sent to Inter Scientific by Trading Standards, about 35% still contained significant amounts of nicotine. Some of these vapes contained 20 milligrams per millilitre of nicotine – the maximum amount of nicotine allowed in any legal vape. Later in the programme, Jordan joins Newcastle Trading Standards as they conduct raids on shops selling illegal vapes.

Jordan hears that Trading Standards do not currently have the power to give on-the-spot fines to illegal vape sellers, and that about one in three successful raids in Newcastle involve repeat offenders. While 45 million illegal vapes are thought to be sold in the UK every year, worth around three-hundred million pounds, criminal prosecutions of shop owners appear to be rare countrywide.

The programme contacted 100 councils and of the 81 that replied, only 95 businesses were recommended for prosecution in 2023, and only 41 were known to have received a fine. Moreover, data from 70 councils shows a 1000% increase in the number of vapes seized in the last 2 years. The Government say they are going to give Trading Standards the power to issue on-the-spot fines. However, concerns remain about whether fines will be large enough to deter sellers, given the high profits to be made from selling illegal vapes.

In early 2024, Australia completely banned disposable vapes. Jordan speaks to Dr Jody Morgan, a Chemical Toxicologist from the University of Wollongong about whether the stricter laws are likely to reduce youth vaping. Jodie is not convinced the ban will stop young people from vaping, given the growing use of black market products. 

“We think that it would just push things further into the black market where things will still be sold, probably still over the counter. People will still be importing stuff from overseas where we also don’t know the kind of chemicals have been put into some of these banned e-cigarettes” she says. 

Along his journey, Jordan also meets young vapers similarly confused about the impact of vaping on their health, and whether some vapes are more dangerous than others. He visits his old university in Sunderland to find out how vapes work, and heads to Manchester to meet the scientist behind one of the first long term studies into the impact of vapes on our cardiovascular system.

Jordan North: The Truth About Vaping is on BBC Three at 9pm and is available on BBC iPlayer now.

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