The use of the Challenge 25 scheme in vaping is now at the centre of a heated debate with a smallish – but growing – proportion of the UK vape community calling for it to be removed from vape shops.
I say ‘heated’ because two of the larger UK YouTube based vape reviewers, Victor Mullin [Vaping With Vic] and Chris Bell, reviewer and vape shop owner [Empire Vape Co] have not only released videos slamming the use of Challenge 25 in UK vape shops, but Vic has also attacked the UK Vaping Industry Association [UKVIA] for implementing it, and Chris has released a petition calling for its removal.
More on that in a moment.
I’ve spoken to both JUUL and UKVIA on the subject who have commented [see below] – Serve Legal has of yet have not replied to my questions.
At the time of writing, neither Vic nor Chris has answered my email asking for comments, which surprised me somewhat. I know they are both busy men, but as always – and in the interest of fairness – I like to show both sides of any vape drama or dispute.
Should either of them reply I shall, of course, add their comments to this article.
Update: Vic responded late last night and his ‘explosive’ comments are below.
So What Is Challenge 25?
OK, Challenge 25 follows on from Challenge 21 and is a scheme brought in 14 years ago by the UK’s drinks industry in a bid to combat underage sales of alcohol. Challenge 25 now includes all age-restricted products such as fireworks – glue/solvents – adult films and more recently knives.
It has appeared in the vape world because JUUL – already fighting claims of being the catalyst behind the alleged teen vaping epidemic in America, decided to adopt the scheme as part of its contract with those UK retailers that wish to stock their products.
In a nutshell at the point of sale shopkeepers and assistants are urged to ask for photographic ID if they believe the person making the purchase ‘looks‘ under 25.
Shops selling age-restricted products are regularly visited by undercover kids [all of whom are of legal age to buy the restricted products] and in the case of vaping, JUUL has vigorously followed this procedure through the use of a UK company called Serve Legal.
As I said if you want to stock and sell JUUL in the UK – either in a regular store or vape shop, you have to implement Challenge 25 or be refused as a stockist.
Those behind the scheme say it was brought in at the specific request of retailers to help combat the growing sales to those underage and not as part of a wider Government clampdown or strategy.
To that end staff training is given and whilst it’s not part of UK law – it does add a layer of protection to businesses and applied correctly should lessen their chances of fines under the current age-restricted laws.
All sounds straightforward and reasonable enough, so what’s all the kerfuffle about then?
Serve Legal and JUUL ‘Undercover Visits’
Chris Bell has had two visits by undercover Serve Legal youngsters and on each occasion has allegedly failed to ask for ID.
After the first visit, he took Serve Legal to task saying the purchaser looked ‘much older than 25’ – he then said he refused to sell any more JUUL products. However, Serve Legal paid another visit recently in which Chris sold his last packet of JUUL menthol pods and was again served with a Serve Legal warning letter – hence the current campaign.
Chris has launched a petition titled: Stop JUUL/Serve Legal Making Up Their Own Laws. At the time of writing it’s been shared far and wide on social media and so far attracted over 600 signatures.
Whilst agreeing with the principal of Challenge 25, Chris is angry at JUUL’s use of it and wants to see the company ‘run out of the industry’ – part of the intro to the petition states:
JUUL are simply trying to damage the industry. An industry that I and many other people love.
An industry that has already saved the lives of millions of people. This company are responsible for many of the problems currently affecting the USA and I as a business owner in the industry myself do not want to see the UK industry damaged by a company who clearly has no care for anyone else just trying to make a living and saving lives in the same process.
Something has to be done and with the help and support of vapers around the UK and potentially the world. We can maybe make it clear to JUUL that they are not welcome in this industry.
They are trying to put people’s businesses and jobs at risk.
They do not care about the families we have at home waiting for us to finish work so we can provide and care for them.
They want to be the only ones left standing and will happily walk over anyone they need to to get to the top.
If you own/work at/visit a vape store then please let your voices be heard. Let us show this company that we do not need nor want them in our industry.
JUUL and UKVIA Say Challenge 25 Is Here To Stay
In response to both the petition and the strongly worded videos a spokesman for JUUL UK told me:
The petition states that JUUL Labs is making up its own laws. JUUL Labs is not seeking a change in the legal age limit to purchase vaping products. Our Challenge 25 policy exists to restrict the sale of JUUL products to adult users only.
Challenge 25 is a policy that requires the retailer and his staff to ask for authorised identification from anyone who appears under the age of 25 to prove that they are over 18 years old and therefore legally able to purchase JUUL products.
JUUL Labs’ mission is to improve the lives of adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes. By ensuring that retailers adopt Challenge 25 before stocking JUUL, we are ensuring that the industry and retailers are proactively working together to limit youth access to vaping products in the UK – an area that has impacted vape vendors in other countries.
Challenge 25 NOT A Legal Obligation
Challenge 25 – which is a JUUL obligation, not a legal obligation – forms a core part of our ongoing Youth Protection programme, alongside many other age-verification initiatives. We require ALL retailers to sign up to the policy including multiple supermarkets, wholesalers, convenience stores and online vendors – not just independent vape stores.
Failure to comply with our Challenge 25 policy on three separate occasions results in suspension of trade with the vendor on JUUL products only, not any other vaping brands or products. We will work with retailers who have failed a test purchase to ensure their staff fully understand the policy and their requirements so that they can pass subsequent Serve Legal visits.
If a retailer does not – or cannot – commit to Challenge 25, then that is their choice but they will not receive any stock from JUUL Labs. All vendors are aware of this process and would have signed up to Challenge 25 in order to stock JUUL, thereby agreeing to be audited by our partner, Serve Legal.
JUUL Labs’ partner Serve Legal visited over 2500 outlets in the last six months to ensure Challenge 25 compliance and we are pleased with the overall pass rates. Various members of the UKVIA have also been subject to test purchases so allegation of limiting our audits to non-UKVIA members is totally without fact.
The mention of UKVIA comes from the claim in Vic’s video that Serve Legal are not doing undercover visits to any of the UKVIA’s member sites.
JUUL as a company is acting like trading standards by forcing “Challenge 25” on shops who are NOT signed up for it, NOT part of the retail group which brought it in (it was actually brought in for the alcohol trade, by an alcohol trade group) and in some cases NOT selling JUUL, and as a company, JUUL’s business practices in its early days are partly responsible for the mess that’s happening right now in the states.
As for UKVIA…three words cover it, their tagline should be “Fu** The Consumers”.
As a trade group they have done more to damage this industry than any other group in the past.
Challenge 25 is an opt in retail option that vape shops do not have to sign up for as vape shops are not selling alcohol or cigarettes, which are the two things that C21 and then C25 was brought in for.
JUUL and UKVIA have no rights what-so-ever to act like the vaping police in the UK.
Vape shops reading this should remember that.
UKVIA told me:
The UKVIA fully endorses the requirement for vaping retailers to adopt a Challenge 25 policy.
As a responsible industry it is crucial that we have robust standards to ensure that only adult smokers and vapers can purchase our products, in line with other age-restricted industries such as alcohol and tobacco.
Our Association Code of Conduct requires all of our members to operate Challenge 25, which is not about increasing the age at which people can legally purchase products but about ensuring that effective age verification takes place at the point of sale.
Vaping is a huge public health opportunity and it is our mission to help the remaining seven million smokers in the UK make the life-changing switch to a far less harmful alternative, as well as ensuring that the UK’s existing vapers can continue to access the range of products they need to stay away from smoking.
But we can only do this if we are recognised as a responsible industry by policymakers and regulators, and if we continue to ensure that the rates of vaping uptake amongst young people remains low.
Any retailer who refuses to recognise these facts risks jeopardising the opportunities for the whole industry, which is why UKVIA members will continue to work together to ensure high standards of youth access prevention across the industry, including Challenge 25.
JUUL told me they will continue to implement Challenge 25 using Serve Legal adding:
We are aware that the legal age for selling vaping products and e-cigarettes accessories in the UK is 18. Our partner, Serve Legal, would be breaking the law if they sent in any persons under 18 to purchase products. That’s why on JUUL Labs’s behalf, the company only uses over 18s to visit stores.
Challenge 25 does not mean that vape stores cannot sell to under 25s. It simply states that the vendor must seek identification on anyone who appears under 25 to ensure that they are over 18 years.
JUUL Labs is committed to youth protection and we see Challenge 25 as a key tool in helping vape retailers restrict the sales to underage youth and stay within the law.
Challenge 25 is a mainstay of the company’s Youth Protection programme and we will continue to insist ALL JUUL retailers sign up to the policy.
Retailers are free to choose whether to stock JUUL or not but if they do choose to stock, Challenge 25 must be a requirement.
A reminder that my thoughts and opinions are just that and not necessarily those of anyone else in the EcigClick Team.
So what do I think about all this?
For a start Challenge 25 is a voluntary scheme in general and is meant as a layer of protection and not punishment for retail outlets – pubs and clubs. However, and in the case of JUUL specifically, they’ve made the decision to add it to the contract with those wishing to stock it and there’s really nothing wrong with that IMHO.
Don’t like it? Don’t sell it – simple as that.
Look, no one is saying all vape shops should implement Challenge 25, but I reckon they’d be wise to do just that even if they aren’t stocking JUUL products.
As recent studies and both JUUL and UKVIA say, the number of teens vaping here in the UK remains low – extremely low, and anything that keeps those figures down surely has to be welcomed?
There’s enough anti-vape rhetoric around the world at the moment and just bubbling under the surface here in the UK, without adding more fuel to the fire. As UKVIA says, unless the vape industry puts in layers of protection such as Challenge 25, it will NOT be seen as responsible.
It did a pretty good job of self-regulating itself prior to the TPD and TRPR and going forward it needs to accept outside schemes such as Challenge 25 not only to protect individual retailers but to some extent those under-age seeking to purchase vape gear from bricks and mortar shops.
The Vape Market Will Speak
As for running JUUL ‘out of the vape industry’ that’s an impossible task in a free-market world. When the company threw vaping under the bus in America, at the time I suggested a boycott. It was a knee-jerk reaction for sure, and whilst to some extent, I stand by it, I have taken the stance that if it’s good enough it will sell.
I reviewed the JUUL system and advised readers it was a weak vape – possibly due to the TRPR restrictions on the amount of nicotine allowed in the pods – if they follow my advice – or try the JUUL and realize it’s not for them, then that’s the market speaking.
I also put the UK version of the JUUL up against a few of its nearest competitors to see if there were better JUUL alternatives. Again I calmly and methodically compared the vape of each one and again found JUUL lacking in many areas compared to its competitors. Once again advising readers of the alternatives.
There’s no doubt JUUL is seemingly everywhere here in the UK, and if it’s good enough it will sell in its droves and if that means more smokers quitting then bravo – as a vape reviewer it just wasn’t for me. And if that means vape shops are obliged or want to enact the Challenge 25 scheme then it’s a small price to pay IMHO.
So – over to you! What are your thoughts on Challenge 25 and the UK vape industry?
Let me know in the comments below.