The owner of a vape shop has slammed the illegal trade as online searches soar.

Illegal vapes are being sought in their thousands across the UK as people use the internet to get their hands on the electronic cigarettes.

Southampton has an average monthly search volume of 104 per 100,000 residents, according to new figures.

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The illegal trade is being fuelled by stores allowing those under the age of 18 to purchase vapes, according to Ben Richardson, CEO of Tidal Vape.

His concerns come after £300,000 of illegally sold vapes and fake tobacco was seized by Hampshire County Council’s Trading Standards in 12 months, as of March.

'Stores need to be held accountable' 

It is illegal to sell vapes containing more than 2ml of e-liquid - equivalent to roughly 600 puffs - in the UK.

But vapes containing more than 15 times the legal limit of liquid are freely circulating across the country.

In light of this, online vape retailer analysed the monthly search volume for illegal vapes over the past 12 months.

Southampton ranks higher than neighbouring Portsmouth and Bournemouth but falls below Eastleigh.

According to the statistics, Eastleigh has an average monthly search volume of 116 per 100,000 residents, making it a very prolific location for searches of illegal vapes.

Ben Richardson owns and runs a chain of vape shops across Hampshire.

Although he and his team are “deeply committed” to adhering to all health and safety regulations, other sellers are not of the same mind.

This leads to significant challenges within the industry which are often not addressed.

Ben said: “What exacerbates this situation is that these stores do not seem to suffer any repercussions, which in turn fuels the trade.

“When younger people discover that a certain store or area sells them vapes, it becomes quite concentrated, resulting in certain areas becoming hotspots for illegal vapes.

“Stores need to be held accountable.”

Ben’s shops were recently targeted in a string of break-ins – with two shops targeted in one night.

He said the high demand drives theft and the search for illegal vapes.

“The illegal market not only undermines these efforts but also poses serious health risks to users”, Ben said.

“We firmly believe that responsible retail practices and stricter enforcement of age restrictions are crucial in addressing the illegal vape trade.

“As a company, we take every measure to prevent underage sales and ensure compliance with current health legislation.

“We are committed to working alongside regulatory bodies and other retailers to combat this problem and promote safe, legal, and responsible vaping.”

'Black market putting health at risk'

(Image: PA)

It is believed that a third of vapes currently sold in the UK are non-compliant, and this figure could rise significantly with the impending ban on disposable vapes due in 2025.

The increasing volume of online searches demonstrates the existence of a growing illicit market on the internet.

Guy Lawler, managing director of said: “It is incredibly concerning to see how illegal vapes are becoming more sought after in the UK, with many consumers having no idea that the products they’re buying are untested and potentially unsafe.

“Vapes are meant to help people quit smoking, but the ever-growing black market is putting people’s health at risk.

“We strongly urge the government to prioritise public health and clamp down on black market importers and retailers as a matter of urgency.”

Data was gathered from Google Keyword Planner, which provides monthly and annual Google search volume data for key phrases and terms across the UK and for each UK region.