Crystal Bar vape giant deletes TikTok after giveaway with no age verification

The UK’s second-largest vape company took down social media accounts after sending vapes to reporters in an online giveaway without age verification.

Chinese government-owned SKE has seen rapid growth in sales of its Crystal Bar disposable vapes, which have been criticised for appealing to children.

In an exclusive interview SKE marketing director Serge Davies said the accounts were taken down for a “review”.

SKE also apologised for not signing up to government recycling schemes.

In supermarkets, newsagents and vape shops, Crystal Bar disposable vapes are everywhere in the UK. Designed to deliver a few hundred puffs of nicotine-containing vapour and then be thrown away, disposable vapes have seen astonishing growth in recent years.

SKE, the partly state-owned Chinese company which makes Crystal Bar, is now the second biggest seller of vapes in the UK, according to new figures from data provider NielsenIQ, selling more than 30 million in the past year. Nielsen’s figures don’t include independent retailers and vape shops – SKE’s true sales figure is thought to be over 100 million.

Giving away free samples has been a key part of its rise – last month it ran an online giveaway on the Discord instant messaging platform, promoted via its Instagram feed. Discord began as a platform for gamers, and has a large number of under-18 users.

Screenshot from Discord showing BBC reporter winning competition


BBC reporters entered the competition. They were asked to state that they were over 18, but no further verification was required. Two vapes were then sent in the post.

It is illegal to sell vapes to anyone under 18.

After the BBC contacted SKE, some of its social media accounts were taken down pending a “review”, including its YouTube and TikTok channels.

“We’re looking to relaunch them with a local social media company that has more of an understanding of the local laws, the local customs,” Serge Davies, SKE’s European communications director, told the BBC.

SKE’s two biggest rivals, the Chinese company Elfbar and UK-listed BAT, which makes Vuse vapes, both say they don’t publish on TikTok. That’s partly because the risk of appearing on children’s phones is too great.

SKE, however, is committed to the platform. “We will be looking to relaunch with an exciting new strategy on TikTok,” said Mr Davies. It is also committed to continuing with vape giveaways. “It does seem to create a lot of interest in the brand and a lot of excitement for all,” he said.

When asked whether he could defend one particular video from SKE’s TikTok feeds, which saw a Crystal Bar being opened to a soundtrack saying, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” Mr Davies said: “None of our policies are geared towards marketing to children. So what we try and do with the [social] media accounts is just try and build up a bit of a buzz really.”

SKE's Serge Davies

MP Steve Brine, chair of the health select committee, said: “It is extremely concerning to hear that vapes could easily fall into the hands of children because proper checks are not being made.

“Responsible manufacturers should not be using giveaway schemes that can act as a green light to children to begin vaping when what they need is protection from potentially harmful effects.”


Disposable vapes contain electronics, including a small battery, which are difficult and expensive to recycle. Discarded vapes are a common sight, and local councils have called for them to be banned.

Like all makers of electronic goods, vape companies are legally obliged to register with recycling schemes under which producers contribute to the cost of recycling. Until this month, SKE had not registered with these schemes, or paid the contributions, estimated at about £100,000.

Mr Davies said the firm apologised for this, which he blamed on a “communications issue”.

“We’re glad you highlighted that and we have now signed up to the relevant schemes,” he said.

SKE set up a UK company for the first time this month, and the paperwork at Companies House shows that the Shanghai State-owned Assets Supervision And Administration Commission (SASAC) has “significant control”. The SASAC administers investments on behalf of the Chinese state.

SKE is owned by Shenzhen Yinghe Technology Co, whose largest shareholder is Shanghai Electric Co, which is in turn more than 50% owned by entities linked to the Chinese state, according to its annual report.

In a report to shareholders last year, Yinghe said it had missed vape sales targets due to a government crackdown in China, and was focusing on international expansion to make up the gap. The UK is now its largest market in Europe.

SKE Crystal Bars on sale

Gummy Bears

In China, only tobacco or menthol flavoured vapes are legal, but in the UK SKE sells a dazzling variety or flavours. In the Discord giveaway BBC reporters were sent Watermelon Ice and Vimbull Ice – combining the tastes of Red Bull and Vimto.

Some flavours, such as Gummy Bear, are named after sweets, which have been criticised as likely to appeal to children. Mr Davies said SKE would continue to sell them. “You’ve got to consider that many Gummy Bears are sold to adults,” he said. It was down to enforcement to prevent vapes being sold to children, he added.

Health committee chair Mr Brine said: “We’ve taken evidence from the vaping industry and do not believe it has gone far enough to ensure that its products don’t appeal to children.

“Marketing is designed to target exactly this age group with the bright colours and flavours that refer to unicorns, sweets or popular fizzy drinks. We want to see restrictions on packaging and marketing practices in line with those that apply to tobacco products.”

Despite many who believe that disposable vapes will be banned, Mr Davies said SKE had set up a headquarters in Manchester, was hiring new staff and expanding.

“We are here to stay,” he said.

Related Topics

  • Tobacco industry
  • TikTok
  • Public health
  • Disposable vapes

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