The Prime Minister has spoken about the scourge of underage vaping while praising the work of Darlington MP Peter Gibson and the 'powerful' reporting of The Northern Echo, in an exclusive interview with the paper.

Rishi Sunak sat down to speak to the Echo whilst on a visit to Haughton Academy, in Haughton-le-Skerne, Darlington, to announce a new policy to ban disposable vapes, and curb their appeal to children.

The announcement of the smoke-free generation policy, and the disposable vapes ban comes hot on the heels of an Echo investigation revealing the proliferation of illegal vapes in the North East. 

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

The Northern Echo: The Prime Minister speaking to Echo reporter Phoebe Abruzzese.

The Prime Minister said: “If you talk to any parent or teacher, as I was doing this morning at Haughton Academy in Darlington, they’ll talk to you about the worrying rise of young people vaping and want something to be done about it, rightly.

“We’re taking action by banning the disposable vapes that have driven the increase in children vaping; but also tackling the flavours, the marketing, the appearance, where vapes are displayed in shops and alongside all of that making sure that all of our enforcement agencies, giving them the power and resources to clamp down on rogue retailers."

The Northern Echo: The Prime Minister looking at vapes at Haughton Academy.

Answering a question about children being exploited and groomed using vapes in Darlington, Mr Sunak said: “You’re right to highlight some of the awful things that we have seen, and I think Peter Gibson the local MP has done an excellent job on this issue locally, highlighting the impact this issue is having and making sure that the government take strong action.”

In Darlington, the Trading Standards team's job has been likened to “a game of whack a mole”, with new contraband trader popping up as soon as one is shut down.

The Prime Minister said: “That’s why we’re investing £30m more in our enforcement, so all of our enforcement agencies from the Border Force, to HMRC, to Trading Standards, so they have the resources they need to go after bad actors.

The Northern Echo: The Prime Minister speaking to media at Haughton Academy.

“We’re also giving them the powers they need. One thing I heard consistently from Trading Standards officers for example was that they wanted to be able to levy on-the-spot fines rather than have to go through a cumbersome process – they’ll now be able to do that.

“I think that will make a big difference in trying to root out these bad actors selling vapes to children, getting them caught up in something that they shouldn’t be. Peter has done an excellent job focussing on it locally, but now nationally we have more money and more powers for all those involved so that they can clamp down on the rogue retailers.”

He added: “Peter has been telling me about [the Echo’s reporting] drawing attention to this issue; I’ve found it powerful. Keep at it.”

The Northern Echo: The Prime Minister with students from Haughton Academy.

Mr Gibson said he was “delighted to welcome Rishi to Darlington again”.

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He added: "The opportunity to talk and listen with children, parents and teachers demonstrated that the action to ban disposable vapes and restrict, packaging, flavours and displays will help to prevent young people from taking up a smoking cessation product.

“We still need to see further action to clamp down on the sellers of illegal products who are exploiting young people and I’m pleased to see further measures with fines and extra resources to tackle this.

“As always, if you have information on vapes being sold to those under 18 please report to the police and trading standards to help rid our streets of criminal sellers.”