Calgary·CBC Investigates

No ID required: Vape products easy to buy for Calgary youth

CBC Calgary worked with teens to visit 16 vape shops in the city. Five of those shops were willing to sell vape products to youth without checking ID

Five of 16 vape shops sold to kids without checking for ID

CBC sent teenagers into 16 stores and, at 5 of them, they were able to purchase vape products. (Helen Pike/CBC)

If you hang around outside any high school in Calgary, it's easy to find teens vaping. Over the past two years, the problem has exploded. On June 20, the British Medical Journal published a study that showed a 74 per cent increase in vaping among Canadian teens 16-19 years old over a one year period, from 2017-2018.

Teens can rhyme off popular "vape" models, what nicotine concentrations juices come in, and the difference between nic-salt and nicotine.

This despite the fact that selling vape products to anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited.

To test how closely the rules restricting sales were being followed in Calgary, CBC went out with three teens, aged 16 and 17. CBC has agreed to keep their identities confidential.

Under supervision, they hit up 16 different stores equipped with a hidden camera. 

Five stores, four known to the teenagers and one picked at random, were willing to sell to the teens without asking for their age or identification. Charging between $10 and $40, the teen purchased vape juice as high as 50mg of nicotine per millilitre, a much higher concentration than in a single cigarette.

Two of the stores responded to a call from CBC Calgary. One store employee mentioned that a staff member had recently been let go for selling products to kids that are underage. Another store said they would have a discussion with employees about the rules. 
Vaping has been marketed as a clean, cool alternative to smoking, but a local doctor says the harmful ingredient is the same, and more needs to be done to convince teens that vaping is not safe, or cool. (Arnd WIegmann/Reuters)

Teen candid about vaping habits

Dr. Ian Mitchell is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Calgary.

Talking to teens he says they're candid about their vaping habits — it is seen as cool and relatively harmless. 

But it's not.

"It's marketed as a clean, cool alternative to smoking dirty, messy tobacco," said Mitchell. "And essentially, the harmful ingredient is the same."

Mitchell said long term health effects of nicotine use include heart and lung problems, along with effects on infants if the products are used around them. 

He also predicts that people will switch to tobacco products because vaping is expensive.

"The government needs to understand that this is a serious problem," Mitchell said. "We need to educate young people that it's not cool, but it's highly addictive. It's damaging."

Across Canada health professionals are calling the youth vaping problem a crisis.

In April, Health Canada put out a plea asking for advice on how to stop a trend: youth taking up vaping.

Earlier this week, nurses and the Edmonton Police Service said it will be visiting vape stores to ensure they are not selling to children. Nursing students will be working with Edmonton schools to educate children.

Enforcement in Alberta

Right now enforcement is the responsibility of Health Canada.

Bill S-5 was passed into law on May 23, 2018. The federal legislation updated the former Tobacco Act, which is now called — Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA). 

The legislation makes furnishing a vaping product to a young person illegal. This includes sending or delivering a vape product to anyone under the age of 18. 

First time offenders can be fined up to $3,000, and for those caught giving kids access to vape products more than once the fine can be up to $50,000.

Health Canada has two enforcement officers working in Alberta. Those officers inspect tobacco and vape shops, importers and manufacturer, and also respond to complaints. In an email, Health Canada said that it is planning to ramp up its focus on vape shops.

Dr. Ian Mitchell feels that more needs to be done to protect youth from developing what could be a lifelong addiction to nicotine.

"I think we need to increase the permissible age," he said. "So I see many liquor stores say we will I.D. anyone who looks under 30. That's a very thoughtful way to approach the problem in a non-offensive way. I think if you remove the flavours, you also remove some of the attractiveness. We need to re-stigmatize vaping.

"It is not cool."

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