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OPINION: Government needs to enforce laws on selling vape supplies to underage teenagers

Health Canada review of the industry found specialty vaping stores are prone to rule-breaking
In this Jan. 31, 2020 photo, a vape shop manager shows Puff Bar flavored disposable vape devices at a store in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Marshall Ritzel)

About once a week, a group of teenagers, different groups of teenagers that is, gather right in front of the office of The Chilliwack Progress where they behave like teenagers.

Oblivious that they are standing in front of our news outlet, I guess, they hang out and chat, stare at their reflections in our glass windows, and wait.

For what do they wait?

The group sometimes looks anxious, peeking around the corner across the street on Alexander Avenue because they are hoping one among them will be successful buying e-cigarette – or vaping – products from the store.

And they are always successful, at least as far as I’ve seen.

In Canada, you have to be 18 to purchase e-cigarettes and I’m pretty sure that most if not all of these kids are not even close. Maybe I’m wrong, and the corner peekers are 17 and their one 18-year-old friend is making the purchases. We all know this has gone on throughout the history of teenagers and age requirements to purchase products, alcohol for example.

According to research and information shared by Health Canada, vaping increases the risk of exposure to chemicals that can harm health, can lead to addiction but mostly, the long-term health consequences of vaping are unknown. It’s too new.

Curious about the enforcement of selling to underage kids that I see almost daily, I filed a freedom of information (FOI) request a couple of years ago asking for a list of all Chilliwack vape shops that had been issued fines or warnings for selling to underage teenagers.

The time frame I gave was one year, and the response I got was that there had been just three fines/warnings in all of the city in that time, two of which went to the shop by our office. Big surprise.

There is a long-standing proposal to put limits on sales of flavoured products to deter kids.

In a recent op-ed, Dr. Andrew Pipe, a board member with Heart & Stroke, a clinical researcher at the University of Ottawa, and an expert on smoking cessation, said the first thing the federal government “must do to protect the health of Canada’s youth,” is to expand the proposed ban on candy-type flavours of e-cigarettes to include menthol.

“Nine out of 10 young people cite flavours as an important reason why they started vaping and why they continue to do so. The allure of vaping flavours, the popularity of vaping among youth, and the nicotine addiction which occurs so rapidly are concerning due to the adverse health impacts associated with e-cigarettes.”

Others on both side of the issue say this is fiddling with the goal posts and, instead, the federal government has to simply enforce its own laws.

The act already includes fines and penalties for offences but they aren’t being used, according to Cynthia Callard, the executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

“They gave themselves the powers when they passed the law in 2018,” Callard said in an interview with Canadian Press. “Now they’re saying, ‘Well, we have to look at something else,’ without really detailing why they’re reluctant to use the powers they have.

“They themselves are not taking the law seriously.”

Health Canada says on the contrary, there is a compliance and enforcement program in place and that “where necessary” they will “take compliance and enforcement action, including warning letters, stop sales, product seizures and criminal investigations.”

According to my FOI results, at least in Chilliwack, that is absolutely not happening. The vaping industry opposes bans on flavours, and agrees with Callard that it’s not about new laws, it’s about enforcing what exists.

“Federally, Canada has implemented robust regulations to protect youth,” said Darryl Tempest with the Canadian Vaping Association (CVA) in an April 25 press release. “The problem is the regulations have not been adequately enforced.

“Instead of using the funding from Canada’s new vape excise tax to increase enforcement resources, the government continues to implement more regulation which also goes unenforced.”

A 2021 Health Canada review of vaping and tobacco activities came to a similar conclusion, after finding that specialty vaping stores were particularly prone to rule-breaking.

There is no point in creating laws to protect youth if there is no intention of enforcing them.

– with files from Canadian Press

READ MORE: Feds must enforce vaping penalties to protect kids: advocates

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