Illegal ‘supersize’ vapes branded with a high 'puff count' are being sold over the counter in County Durham, a Northern Echo investigation has uncovered. 

Our reporter was easily able to buy illegal vapes in one store in Durham City Centre – while e-cigarettes bought in another two raised serious “red flags” with consumer watchdogs. 

Within 14 minutes, the Echo had been able to procure three different devices, all of which were either illegal, unregulated, or untraceable according to regulators.  

In the UK, legislation outlines that disposable vapes must not hold more than two millilitres of liquid or contain more than 20 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre of e-liquid. But our reporter was sold devices that contained too much liquid, had the wrong health warnings, or that had a mystery nicotine substitute, HRI, which has “no UK traceability”, and that Trading Standards officials had never even heard of. 

The Northern Echo: Mobile & Mac Point sold the Echo a "clearly illegal" vape.

The first shop our reporter visited – Mobile and Mac Point – on Durham’s busy North Road, sold our reporter an illegal supersize vape within the first five minutes of the investigation.  

Vapes, laid out in plain view under the glass countertop in ascending order of “puff count” seem to drive the bulk of the shop’s retail.  

After being asked for a device known to be illegal by our reporter, the shopkeeper upsells, eventually selling a large vape known as a Hayati Pro Ultra.  

The Northern Echo: Mobile & Mac Point sold the Echo a "clearly illegal" vape.

“This the biggest,” the shopkeeper says, gesturing towards the Hayati vapes, which boast a puff count of 15,000+, adding: “It’ll last you for two weeks."

Though legal limits are not set by vape puff count, it can be used as an indicator. Typically, devices that stick to the 2ml vape oil limit will be able to provide around 600 puffs, meaning devices that tout counts well into the thousands are likely to be over the limit.  

With two tanks, both claiming to be 12ml, the rechargeable Hayati Pro Ultra has a total of 24ml of vape oil, giving it a capacity 12 times bigger than the legal limit.

The back of the device's box declares: "Sale only allowed in the United States", and carries a warning about the vape oil containing acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, which are "known by the state of California to cause cancer".

After a demonstration of how to switch the mouthpiece from one tank of vape oil to the next, and a warning not to charge the vape for more than 20 minutes at a time for safety, our reporter is charged £19.99.  

“The Hayati Pro Ultra 15,000 is illegal for various reasons,” a spokesperson for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute says.  

“These devices appear to have the wrong health warnings on for a start, as well as containing too much nicotine liquid.” 

Mobile & Mac Point was approached for comment, but did not respond. 

After being sold the illegal device with two tanks, our reporter was then sold nicotine-free devices - containing mystery substance HRI - at two other shops, without being told of the difference.  

The Northern Echo: Our reporter heading into St News, on North Road

In St News, in Durham City, our reporter asked for a device we know to be illegal by name. Instead, we were sold a 5,000 puff count 'Bloody Bar'. On the top shelf, they’re the biggest on offer, and cost £15.99.  

The packaging declares “this product contains HRI, which is a harm reducing innovation.” In small print on the back, it says “this product contains no nicotine”.  

Online, information is scant about what HRI is – other vape shops selling Bloody Bars tout it as a “safer vaping alternative for the health-conscious vaper” promising “a hit equivalent to two per cent nicotine”, despite having a “ground-breaking 0 per cent nicotine formula”.  

However, no detail about the chemical makeup of HRI, its safety, or how it creates nicotine-like effects, are available online.  

The Northern Echo: Exiting with a HRI vape, that Trading Standards had never seen before.

This substance is unknown to regulators. A Trading Standards spokesperson said: “HRI appears to be something made up by the producer.” 

When searching the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's list of vapes approved for sale in the UK, The Northern Echo could not find any reference to Bloody Bars. 

When sourcing new supplies of any e-cigarette or e-liquid product, the Government advises retailers to check that a notification has been published on that notified product list.

Nicotine-free products, which Bloody Bars are, do not have limits on how big they can be imposed by legislation. 

Despite this, regulators told The Northern Echo that there are “red flags” about their packaging, and the way they were sold to us.  It is unknown whether these are legal to sell in the UK. 

Elsewhere, Bloody Bars are sold with the disclaimer: "This product contains HRTP which is which is a harm reducing technology platform." 

In Durham Tech, our reporter buys a second Bloody Bar, again after asking for a specific illegal device. Though this is the same make as the device containing HRI liquid, the vendor takes it out of the box before handing it over the counter. It is difficult to know what the vapes contain without the manufacturer’s packaging, and no mention of HRI is made.  

The Northern Echo: Durham Tech removed packaging from the vape sold to our reporter.

To the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, this move is “a big red flag”.  

They say: “We’ve heard about this, particularly from children who buy. We suspect that’s mainly because it’s the packaging which enables us to be certain of the breaches of the regulations.” 

In this shop, our 23-year-old reporter is asked for her ID, for the first time all day. The shopkeeper explains that it is about the time that children are leaving school, and he does not want to sell to anyone underage.  

The Northern Echo: Durham Tech removed packaging from the vape sold to our reporter.

When approached for comment on the sale of the Bloody Bar, a Durham Tech spokesperson said: "We also did try to get in touch regarding the HRI and HRTP but couldn't find any information from Trading Standards.

"We can try to see if we can get any more updates from the supplier. The product did say no nicotine.

"Regarding the packaging of this or any other products we sell, we help customers to recycle them properly and keep the waste to minimum."

A spokesperson for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute said: “There is a robust regulatory framework to try to ensure that nicotine-containing vape products are available for smokers looking to quit their hugely dangerous tobacco habit. Children and non-smokers should not use them.  

“Illegal vapes do not attempt to comply with the regulations and are often sold to children, risking tying them to an immensely addictive substance.  

“They undermine regulations and are often imported and distributed via organised criminal networks bringing criminality into our communities.” 

The Northern Echo: The Echo's undercover reporter was able to purchase these vapes from shops on North Road.

Our information has been passed to Durham County Council's Trading Standards department. The team's officers have seized more than 6,500 illegal vapes, worth £80,000, since March 2022. 

Ian Harrison, Durham County Council’s business compliance manager, said: “The message for retailers is that they must make sure the vape products they sell comply with UK regulations.

"We encourage them to only source such products from a reputable supplier and they can always ask us for advice if they are ever in doubt about whether or not a product is compliant.

“We also urge members of the public to help us tackle the sale of illegal products by reporting their concerns to us so we can investigate.”