A Fraser Health official says that almost every retailer selling cigarettes is also selling vapour products, with a number being sold to minors.
That’s what Fraser Health’s Tobacco and Vapour Products Enforcement Team is working to stop with its minor test-shopper program that’s been running for more than a decade.
But in the years since it started, health protection manager Alex Kwan said he’s seen a shift toward vaping products despite teens not yet knowing the potential harms of vapour products. Vaping really became popular in the mid-2010s, Kwan said in an interview Thursday (June 1).
“There’s very little information – if any, based on what I’ve seen – around any potential concerns or harms, and therefore it may give youth a wrong impression about the safety of these products, so I do feel it’s important that we have this program to help prevent sales to minors.”
Wednesday marked the 36th annual World No Tobacco Day, established by the World Health Organization to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes.
The team has been working with minors as test shoppers in the region for more than a decade, aiming to prevent tobacco and vapour product sales to teens through a team of 12 test shoppers.
Working in pairs, the shoppers will try and buy products they’re not supposed to be able to get because they’re underage. Retailers are required to ask anyone who looks under 19 for ID before selling tobacco or vapour products.
One of those shoppers is 17-year-old Amy, whose name has been changed for privacy concerns.
“My friends call me a narc,” she said.
Once a transaction is complete, both teens meet with an enforcement officer stationed outside the store and independently prepare their notes.
“Almost every retailer who sells cigarettes is selling vapour products and we’re seeing a lot more sales to minors,” explained Kwan.
Selling to a minor can lead to fines or licence suspensions. Last year, Fraser Health issues 63 fines and checked more than 1,200 retail outlets for compliance with provincial regulations.
Amy knows the potential impacts vaping can have on people her age.
“There are real short- and long-term health consequences for them, so it’s important to try and stop them accessing these products.”
The main thing, Kwan said, is that it’s illegal to sell vapour or tobacco products to anyone under the age of 19, “regardless of how informed the youth may be that is still the law.”
When it comes to teens vaping, he really wants them to learn about the potential impacts.
“There are various reasons why youth may want to pick up vaping. It could range from just popularity, peer pressure, or it could even in some cases be a coping mechanism for whatever stresses they’re experiencing.”