Understanding the Illicit Vape Epidemic

Disposable vapes have boomed in popularity in recent years, thanks to the hassle-free alternative they offer to smokers looking to improve their health. Unfortunately, this has created a big cash opportunity for dangerous bootleggers, meaning it’s vital that users learn how to spot illegal vapes. 

A recent BBC report found that over 4 million illegal disposable vapes were seized at the border in 2023, a dramatic increase from the 4,430 seized in 2019. You might think this shows that the authorities have successfully cracked down on the issue, so you don’t have to worry. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While they’ve definitely stepped up their efforts to tackle the problem, this massive increase in seizures is simply a reflection of the massive amount of illegal vapes flooding the market today. And with the upcoming April 2025 ban on single-use devices, the problem is only going to get worse. 

So, what are the legal requirements for a disposable vape? How can you spot a dangerous vape? And how can you buy a disposable you can trust? Let’s break it down.

Header image for the legal requirements of disposable vapes

What Are the Legal Requirements for a Disposable Vape?

Every disposable vape in the UK is subject to strict legislation to ensure that users’ health is promoted and protected. Your device should be compliant with the rules set out by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR – sometimes referred to as TPD).

To be legally sold in the UK, nicotine-containing vapes must: 

  • Contain no more than 2% nicotine (20 mg/ml)
  • Contain no more than 2ml of juice if containing nicotine (around 600 puffs)
  • Feature the health warning ‘This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance’
  • Be registered with the MHRA and listed on its website
  • Not contain harmful ingredients (such as colourings, caffeine and taurine)

When you buy one of these devices, you know what you’re getting is safe and approved. The same cannot be said for disposables of the illegal variety.

The Risks of Illegal Disposable Vapes

Buying dodgy, knock-off devices can do much more than cost you a bit of money. You can find yourself suddenly dealing with a variety of nasty, unforeseen consequences to your health and even your property! 

The most glaring – and dangerous – risk of illegal vapes is their complete and utter lack of quality control. Manufacturers of these bootleg devices are only concerned with their profit margins, not their users or any important medical regulations. This means that what you’re inhaling can often feature a variety of harmful chemicals

Scientists have discovered a range of toxic, high-risk, and destructive substances included in illegal vapes. A recent BBC article discovered the presence of lead, nickel, and chromium in seized illegal vapes, all of which are carcinogenic. The tests also revealed the presence of substances that produce formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, chemicals usually only produced in cigarette smoke. 

This means that using illegal vapes can be just as – or even more – harmful than smoking cigarettes. But that’s not all. Illegal and imitation vapes are cheaply, poorly produced devices which can naturally result in faults. This poor manufacturing can cause problems with the battery, such as overheating. Some unfortunate users have even reported experiencing house fires as a result!

Header image for warning signs picturing illicit disposable vapes

Spotting the Warning Signs of an Illegal Disposable Vape

Now you’re familiar with the dangers of illegal vapes, it’s time to get up-to-speed with the classic indications you’re dealing with a less-than-reputable product. Thankfully, there are a range of tell-tale signs that you can use to help assess the legitimacy of your device. 


Check the Number of Puffs

Under UK TRPR legislation, disposable vapes must contain no more than 2ml of nicotine e-liquid, which is around 600 puffs. Products advertising more puffs than this (3,500 of nicotine e-liquid, etc.) are illegal, black-market offerings. 

If you get your hands on one of these products, it will be thanks to the efforts of criminal smugglers sneaking the items past UK border control. You might be thinking that this device is still safe for use, but the fact that it has been handled by criminal elements dramatically increases the odds that you’re getting an unregulated, counterfeit item. 


Check the Quality of the Packaging

Before you open up your new vape, be sure to run your eye over its packaging. Illegal vapes often don’t come in the clearest, easy-to-understand boxing. 

Low-quality packaging with fuzzy images and unclear labels is always a dead giveaway. Another unmistakable sign that your vape is illegal is the use of foreign language on the boxing. This indicates it has been smuggled from somewhere else —  where health regulations may not be as good as they are in the UK. 


Check the Quality of the Product

Products intended for sale in the UK have to undergo rigorous quality standard controls to ensure users get what they’re paying for. Lawbreakers, on the other hand, don’t have this worry — their main concern is cost-cutting. 

Looking at the actual build quality of your device is always worth doing. Cheaply manufactured disposables will often feature ill-fitting components, rough seams, and bad plastic moulding. The device may also leak juice.

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Authenticating a Disposable Vape

The best way to ensure you’re getting an authentic device is to buy from a reputable retailer. We have a range of MHRA and TRPR-compliant disposable vape devices that you can enjoy with confidence. 

That being said, sometimes buying a disposable from a brick-and-mortar store is your only option. So, if you find yourself buying a vape from a corner shop during your travels, how do you secure that much-needed peace of mind? 

Thankfully, the answer is better than just “open up the packet and hope for the best”. There are a number of ways out there to help you check that your device is the real deal.


Check the QR Code

Illicit disposables are an epidemic, which has led to manufacturers like Elf Bar, Lost Mary, and Elux coming up with a practical solution. 

The packaging of these products features a handy QR code that you can scan to verify the authenticity of your vape. Doing so will take you to a website confirming its legitimacy, allowing you to puff in peace. 


Check the Packaging Is Sealed

It’s always important to check the integrity of any disposable vape you buy. An unsealed or damaged-looking package can be a sign that the device has been tampered with or even replaced, leaving you with an illegal copy.

When you buy a vape, look over its packaging to make sure that everything is properly sealed. The box should be unopened, containing a sealed vape device and a corresponding instruction manual. The device should match the product displayed on the box. 


Check the MHRA Website

All vape devices sold in the UK must be properly registered on the MHRA website by law. Each product is listed with its manufacturer name, device type, and product name (the flavour and specifications). 

You can ensure your device is compliant with UK health regulations by searching this database and finding its listing. Remember, though — this does not protect against imitations, who can simply mimic the make and model of your disposable. 

Where Can I Get a Disposable Vape I Can Trust?

If you can, it’s always best to order your vapes online from an established, trusted retailer. At Vapoholic, we offer a wide range of high-quality disposable vaping devices from trusted, reliable sources. We only purchase our stock from the most esteemed wholesalers in the industry, so you know you’re getting a product you can count on. 

Our stock ranges from the big hitters like Elf Bar, Elux, and Lost Mary, to more obscure offerings like Mike Tyson’s disposables. We also offer our own disposable Fantasi Mesh Bars, a premium-quality device bursting with intense, juicy flavours. These come loaded with the same great taste as our very own Fantasi e-liquid, produced by us here in the UK. All our juice is compliant with MHRA and TPD safety regulations. 

However, if you’re out and about and you’re looking for a quick and convenient vaping fix, chances are you don’t plan on ordering online. Buying from a brick-and-mortar store does carry more risk, but there are some steps you can take to ensure you’re protected.

Be sure to only buy disposable vapes from established high-street brands you can trust. When purchasing products from a well-known supermarket or retailer, you can be assured they’re getting their products from a proper source. The danger really lies in convenience stores. If you go to the corner shop and wonder why their disposables are so cheap, be sure to remember there’s probably a good reason! 

It’s important to be vigilant about unlawful vapes, but don’t worry too much — as long as you remember the warning signs and buy from responsible, established sources, you can continue to enjoy vaping worry-free. 

Vapoholic is a UK-based e-liquid manufacturer. We are compliant with the Tobacco and Regulated Products Regulations 2016. Our disposable devices are registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency