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Community pharmacy

Pharmacies are selling e-cigarettes to under 18s

Pharmacy bodies have renewed calls for a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children after investigation finds community pharmacies sell devices to customers under 18 years of age.



Retailers catering to Great Britain’s estimated 2.1 million users of e-cigarettes are found to be selling them to teenagers

An investigation has found retailers are selling e-cigarettes to teenagers.

The investigation , by the government agency Public Health England and the Trading Standards Institute, which represents trading standards professionals, involved teenagers as young as 13 years attempting to purchase e-cigarettes from retailers, including supermarkets, newsagents, pharmacies and market stalls across England in March 2014.

E-cigarettes were sold in 227 of the 574 retail outlets included in the investigation (40% of all visits). Independent pharmacies were the second most likely to sell the devices to teenagers providing e-cigarettes in 74% of cases, second only to markets or car boot sales. However, only 19 pharmacies  were visited as part of the investigation.

A report on the investigation was published on 2 July 2014 also found national pharmacy chains sold e-cigarettes in 17 of 37 visits (46%). Supermarkets and national newsagent chains were least likely to sell the device, providing e-cigarettes in 25% and 23% of visits, respectively.

There is currently no age restriction on the sale of e-cigarettes in England, although most products carry a voluntary age warning that they are not for sale to under 18s. New powers proposed in the Children and Families Act 2014 which will lead to a ban on sales to under 18s are expected to come out shortly, a department of health spokesperson said.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) called the findings “shocking,” and renewed calls for a ban on the sale of the products to children. “Young people under 18 should not be able to get hold of e-cigarettes,” says RPS spokesperson Neal Patel. “We back the proposed ban on selling to under 18s and think this should be introduced urgently.”

James Davies, planning and policy manager for Pharmacy Voice, which represents three community pharmacy organisations, said: “[We are concerned] that the younger generation could be affected by the marketing of e-cigarettes, especially through the use of flavoured e-cigarettes.

“It is important to restrict sale to under 18s and ensure that all marketing is aimed exclusively at current smokers.”

The Government and regulatory authorities need to work closely with retailers in advance of any regulations to ensure that retailers are aware of their legal responsibilities.

Kevin Fenton

The findings were “extremely disappointing,” said Fin McCaul, the chair of the Independent Pharmacy Federation, which represents independent pharmacies.  “It is undermining the value of community pharmacy in a market where we should be taking the lead — smoking cessation.”

Kevin Fenton, the director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said the findings were “unacceptable”.  

“The Government and regulatory authorities need to work closely with retailers in advance of any regulations to ensure that retailers are aware of their legal responsibilities,” Fenton added.

It is estimated that there are some 2.1 million users of e-cigarettes in Great Britain.

Investigation findings

Premises typeAttempts to purchasePurchases madePurchases made (%)

Market stall/car boot sale




Independent pharmacy




Specialist E-cigarette supplier




Independent newsagent




Pharmacy national chain




Small retailer




Other retailer




Off licence




Large retailer




National newsagent




Source: Trading Standards Institute

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20065677

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