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Vapes Confiscated from Students Contained Harmful Chemicals

A selection of vapes confiscated from pupils at a school in England were found to contain high levels of lead, nickel, and chromium, it was reported.

An investigation by BBC News found that most of the vapes were illegal products that had not been subject to regulatory testing.

The vapes were collected from Baxter College in Kidderminster, where headteacher Matthew Carpenter had already taken firm action to tackle the use of e-cigarettes, including installing sensors in toilets. The secondary school is attended by students aged 11-18 years.

Laboratory Testing

Health journalists at the BBC sent 18 of the vapes to Inter Scientific in Liverpool, which specialises in ensuring that regulatory standards are met for a wide range of products, including vapes.

In 'highlighter vapes', which are brightly coloured to resemble highlighter pens, the report said laboratory technicians found:

  • Lead at 2.4 times the stipulated safe exposure level
  • Nickel at 9.6 times the level considered to be safe
  • Chromium at 6.6 times safe levels

Hugh Pym, the BBC's health editor, who co-wrote the report, told the BBC's "Newscast" programme on Tuesday that some of the vapes also contained carbonyls, "which break down into chemical compounds, like formaldehyde – and in some cases they were above the level that you'd find in cigarettes".

The report quoted David Lawson, co-founder of Inter Scientific, describing his laboratory's findings as "the worst set of results I've ever seen". He said: "None of these should be on the market – they break all the rules on permitted levels of metal."

According to Mr Pym, children could be "buying them in shops, which are extremely unscrupulous in selling them" or, as one pupil told reporters during the investigation, "there were dealers who were going around selling them".

Responsibility of Trading Standards

Vape manufacturers must conform to regulations on ingredients, packaging, and marketing, and all e-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with the Medicines and Health Care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Agency told Medscape News UK that most products it was made aware of had not been notified to the MHRA and were, therefore, "not legal for sale in the UK market". It said that Trading Standards was responsible for removing illegal products from the market.

The Department of Health and Social Care recently allocated £3 million for what it termed an 'illicit vapes enforcement squad', led by Trading Standards, that would carry out test purchases at vape shops and convenience stores and promote regulatory compliance. Health minister Neil O'Brien also called for evidence on how to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes.

Dr Laura Squire, chief healthcare quality and access officer at the MHRA, said: "We continue to support regional and national UK enforcement agencies and trade bodies in their activity to remove illicit e-cigarette products from the market."