Revealed: TikTok traders illegally selling vapes disguised as lip gloss and candy to


Vaping products disguised as colourful lip gloss and candy are being openly sold to children on TikTok with secret codes designed to trick parents, a study found.

Researchers analysed hundreds of posts on the Chinese video-sharing app to identify hashtags that indicate addictive and potentially dangerous e-cigarettes are being sold.

While a clip may appear to be advertising harmless items suitable for young children, the wording on the screen tells in-the-know youngsters that vapes will be hidden in any package they order.

The study, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, identified popular hashtags including #puffbars, #geekbar and #elfbar – all brands of disposable e-cigarettes.

Code-words that indicate sellers are offering concealed vapes with pictured products include #puffbundles, #discreetshipping and #hiddennic.

One of the posts identified by the researchers appears to be selling candy and lipgloss, but the words 'elf bundle' tell youngsters that a vaping product will be included in the package

One of the posts identified by the researchers appears to be selling candy and lipgloss, but the words ‘elf bundle’ tell youngsters that a vaping product will be included in the package

Colourful disposable vapes can currently be sold in sweet shops and other venues that appeal to children

Colourful disposable vapes can currently be sold in sweet shops and other venues that appeal to children 

The words ‘ALL FAKE’ are used in captions to evade TikTok’s illegal activity detection algorithms, the researchers said, while #noID indicates the seller will not require identification for sale.

Almost one in five of the vape-selling accounts that were studied advertised themselves as a ‘small business’.

Vaping products were found to be concealed among harmless items in sealed pouches, or hidden inside hair scrunchies.

Professor Page Dobbs, of Arkansas University, said: ‘Parents should be aware that children may be receiving e-cigarette products through the mail.

‘These self-proclaimed small businesses are targeting youth by advertising that they don’t check for identification.

‘If your child receives a bundle of candy or beauty products in the mail, check inside the packaging or inside the scrunchie with a zipper.

‘Also, policymakers and enforcement agencies should be aware that these products are being shipped internationally, meaning people are circumventing tobacco laws in multiple countries.’

Overall, the researchers found that 50.4 per cent of the videos studied advertised popular vaping brands, and 45 per cent included cannabis products.

Videos directed customers to other social media platforms – most often Instagram – which guided them to use anonymous messaging apps including Telegram to actually purchase the nicotine products.

Almost half (45.2 per cent) of the posts said they did not require age verification. No video indicated customers needed to provide identification for purchase.

Although the legal age for vaping is 18, the number of children using them has tripled in the last three years, according to the Department of Health. A staggering 1 in 5 children have tried vaping.

The long-term effects of vaping are unknown, though they have been linked to lung scarring, organ failure and asthma.

They are also highly addictive and the cheaply-made, battery-powered devices have been known to explode in users’ hands.

Disposable vapes are particularly linked to the rise in popularity among children. They are cheap and easy to use, with 69 per cent of vapers aged 11 to 17 using them.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent of children aged 13 to 17 use TikTok, where users can post short-form video clips from unverified and anonymous accounts.



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