BRITAIN’S largest vaping chain has vowed to keep its shops open amid the coronavirus crisis to stop ex-smokers turning back to cigarettes.

Edinburgh-based VPZ, which has 155 outlets across the UK, is urging the Government not to close vape retailers in a lockdown.

VPZ said Britain must follow the lead of countries such as Italy and Spain by ensuring that vaping stores join the list of essential shops allowed to stay open in the event of a total lockdown.

It said ex-smokers could be put at significant risk of complications with Covid-19 if they end up relapsing on cigarettes because they are unable to buy vaping products – putting unnecessary extra strain on the NHS. Scientists and health experts have warned that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of serious illness caused by coronavirus, because smokers already have weakened lung defences and may also have existing lung conditions.

Doug Mutter, director of manufacturing and compliance at VPZ, said: We know we have a lot of elderly customers and many of them can’t do a big stockpile – we don’t want them to have no option and end up back on cigarettes, because that’s what’s available to them.

“If the vaping industry can play a part in reducing the pressure on the NHS by continuing to operate in some way, we’ll do out utmost to do what we can.”

The firm is putting in place extra measures to help protect its 450 staff from the coronavirus, by increasing cleaning within its stores, removing all tester and sampling devices for customers, and introducing a customer limit within stores.

VPZ is also trialling a local delivery service near its Edinburgh head office for older customers unable to get online. They will be able to place orders over the phone and store staff will drop them off at their doorstep.

It is hoping to roll this out further across the UK if it proves successful.

Mutter said: “We are working immensely hard behind the scenes to ensure all of our 155 stores will be open, as well as providing additional delivery services for those who are self-isolating or for whatever reason are unable to access our products, and support.”