- To confirm whether underage teens in Canada are able to purchase and take delivery of e-cigarette and vaping products by placing orders online with retailers.
- To understand the current regulatory, industry, consumer and health environment as it relates to online sales of vaping products to underage teens in Canada.
- To determine whether there is a market need for secure age verification tools in the vaping space.
Phased research approach
- Online research of legislative, regulatory, industry, youth and health, media scan and stakeholders.
- Engaging teens 14-17 in attempting to make online purchases of vaping products containing nicotine.
Phase one details
Legislative & regulatory
Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, Bill S-5: An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers' Health Act:
- Introduced in the senate in November 2016 where it passed Third Reading June 1, 2017.
- Received First Reading in the House of Commons June 15, 2017.
Among other things, the bill would:
- Prohibit the sale of vaping products (as defined in the bill) to minors, including sending a vaping product to a minor;
- Prohibit the promotion of vaping products containing flavours that appeal to youth;
- Prohibit sending or delivering a tobacco or vaping product to a young person;
- Require manufacturers to submit information about a vaping product to the Minister of Health before the product can be sold;
- Restrict advertising of vaping products;
- Increase penalties for tobacco-related offences;
- Prohibit furnishing a tobacco product, including vaping products, to a young person (under 18) in a public place;
- Require retailers to post signs containing prescribed information relating to selling or giving a tobacco product to a young person, or health-related information;
The proposed penalities for furnishing a vaping product to a young person, or sending or delivering a vaping product to a young person:
- First offence: fine not exceeding $3,000
- Subsequent offence, fine not exceeding $50,000
Legislative and regulatory elements in other Canadian jurisdictions
A number of provinces and municipalities have regulated — or are in the process of regulating — electronic cigarettes, whether or not they contain nicotine:
- Ontario's Electronic Cigarettes Act, 2015
- Manitoba's The Non-Smokers Health Protection Amendment Act (E-cigarettes)
- Quebec's An Act to Bolster Tobacco Control
- Vancouver's by-law to provide for the care, promotion and protection of the health of inhabitants
Legislative and regulatory elements in the United States
New FDA regulations (effective 8/8/2016)
- Restrict sales of vaporizer products and accessories to customers under 18
- Require photo ID verification for all customers under 27.
- Many retailers ask if they have to verify customers who order online. The answer is yes, the age verification requirement applies to both retail stores and online (e-commerce) stores.
- Any sale of covered tobacco products over the Internet must comply with the minimum age and identification requirements in this rule. (FDA Deeming Rule)
- Demand is growing — 13 million users globally in 2014, most in Europe and USA
- Virtually all users are current or former smokers
- More than 400 brands available worldwide (2015) in a fragmented market with no international brands
- Sales of e-cigs and e-cig liquids more than US $6 billion dollars (2014)
- Total market size has eclipsed nicotine replacement therapies
- Trend has been shifting from cig-a-likes to ‘tank' systems, enabling users to customize their own vapes
- Applications for the technology beyond nicotine: analgesics, marijuana, food, etc.
- Euromonitor Research June 2015
- Health Canada May 2016
Health Canada Report: Retailer Behaviour With Respect to Youth Access to Electronic Cigarettes and Promotion, May 2015
- Twenty percent (417,000) of youth 15 to 19 years and 20% (488,000) of young adults 20 to 24 years have tried an e-cigarette*
- Two-thirds (67 percent) of retailers across the country refused to sell e-cigarette products to youth
- Across Canada, 64 percent of youth who tried to purchase an e-cigarette product were asked to provide ID
- The rate of refusal to sell:
- highest at grocery stores (77 percent), chain convenience stores (75 percent) and gas convenience stores (71 percent)
- Lowest at independent convenience stores (53 percent).
- Refusal to sell e-cigarettes was lower when the store was near a school (58 percent) compared to not near a school (69 percent)
- At the time of the study, only two of the ten provinces surveyed had retail age restrictions on the sale of e-cig products
- Canada has strict controls that limit tobacco display and tobacco access, including minimum age restrictions involving the sale of tobacco products
- The latest tobacco retailer behaviour survey results show retailers appear unwilling to sell tobacco products to youth 85 percent of the time
- None of the results or commentary in this report referenced the issue of online sales of e-cigs to minors.
Youth & health
- General acceptance that vaping can help tobacco combustion smokers quit or cut back
- Concern for youth is around whether e-cigs and access to them actually provide a gateway to becoming smokers
- Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco
- E-cigarette sales to minors should be banned in the absence of evidence that e-cigarettes do not present a risk to young people's health and that e-cigarette use does not increase the risk of tobacco use initiation among young people.
- Youth-friendly flavourings in all types of e-cigarette cartridges and e-liquids should be banned in light of data showing that tens of thousands of Ontario youth use flavoured tobacco products of one kind or another.
- E-cigarette use should be banned in all public places and workplaces in light of the many unknowns about the health risks of exposure to second-hand e-cigarette vapour, and the impact that widespread e-cigarette use in public places and workplaces could have on smoking initiation and cessation.
- Point-of-sale advertising and promotion should not be permitted in light of the ban on retail tobacco displays both on and behind counters and elsewhere in retail locations.
Read the full OCAT statement on e-cigarettes
Stakeholders both supportive and opposed
- Canadian Vaping Association
- Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada
- E-Cigarette Research Group (University of Alberta)
- Canadian Cancer Society
- Imperial Tobacco
- Health Canada
- Provincial health ministries
- Canadian Lung Association
- Canadian Medical Association
- Heart & Stroke Foundation
- Centre for Addiction & Mental Health
- Canadian Public Health Association
- Non-Smokers Rights Association
- Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
- Clean Air Coalition of British Columbia
- Action on Smoking & Health (Alberta)
- Saskatchewan Coalition for Tobacco Reduction
- Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance Inc.
- Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco
- Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control
- Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for Control of Tobacco
- Smoke-Free Nova Scotia
- No media coverage found at all about the issue of online retailers selling e-cigs to minors
- Globe and Mail, June 7, 2017 Tracey Lindeman, special to the Globe: Vaping businesses worried about new regulations.
- Globe and Mail, January 24, 2017, Andre Picard, opinion: stop vilifying vaping.
- Global News Edmonton: To vape or not to vape: research is lacking January 17, 2017.
- Health Canada News Release & Backgrounder, Nov 2016 re: introduction of legislation (Bill S-5).
- CBC: online coverage of Health Canada news release.
- CBC Fifth Estate, Mark Kelley Welcome back, Big Tobacco October 21, 2016.
Phase two details
This research exercise was not about “calling out” retailers, rather to assess and expose a gap in the system that is leaving Canadian teens vulnerable. There is a solution that is easy, secure, and available for online retailers to ensure its customers are of age.
- Eleven of the 23 retailers were randomly selected and randomly assigned to participating teens.
- Teens aged 14 to 17 succeeded in making online purchases of vaping products containing nicotine from all 11 retailers (48 percent of the total number of retailers.)
- Of those 11 online orders, teens were able to successfully take delivery in ten. Only one package was refused delivery due to the teen not being able to furnish identification proving age of majority.
- Participating teens were solicited through Facebook, parents approached first. Parents that agreed approached their own teen.
- We approached a total of eight parent/teen combinations.
- Five agreed to participate.
- Three completed their research assignments, making purchases from three to four randomly selected retailers.
Consent form summary
We modeled our market research consent form after one available on the Health Canada website. In it we covered:
- Objectives of the research exercise, high-level details of the activities we were asking them to participate in
- We guaranteed to protect their identity. Only the third-party contractor hired to organize the research knows the identity of the participating teens: Inverite has no access to that information.
- Use of the research data may include media commentary, and that teens and their parents may be approached to speak to media about their experience. They have every right to refuse such request for access.
- A $15 thank you gift would be provided on completion of the exercise, including submission of the required documentation.
- No requirement for out-of-pocket expenditures: we provided pre-paid credit cards and in one case cash for interac payments.
- Parent and teen were both required to sign the consent form.
Tracking form summary
Each teen researcher was provided with a tracking/reporting form including the following instructions and details required.
- Begin the research within 24-36 hours after receiving this instruction sheet.
- One at a time, visit the website of each of your assigned retailers.
- Note in the questions below whether you are asked to indicate your age, and if yes, what you are asked to do.
- Even if it says you must be 18/19 to enter, please enter anyway.
- If they ask you to provide a birthdate, please make one up that makes you 19 years old (born prior to June 12 1998).
- Take a screen shot of any age-related request.
- Navigate to the products page.
- Look for e-juice, or e-cig juice and choose one that is under or as close to $20 as possible. Be sure to choose an option that includes nicotine (e.g. either 3, 6, or 12 mg).
- Add your selection to the cart.
- If the retailer requires you to create an account, please do so using your real name and address.
- Choose a shipping option that is the fastest delivery option, as long as it is under $15. Aim to have delivery completed within 5-7 days (or sooner) of placing your order.
- Take a screen shot of the shopping cart page, both before and after you enter payment information.
- Use the pre-paid credit card provided to make the purchase.
- If credit cards are not accepted, you or your parent will have received an email transfer from us covering the cost. Using your own or your parent's account, please pay via email transfer following the instructions provided by the retailer.
- Save the receipt so you can submit it to us along with the completed questionnaire and pictures.
- Answer the questions below related to the online purchase portion of this research.
- Note when expected delivery will be and discuss with your parent how you will accept delivery.
- If no one is home when delivery is attempted, request delivery a second time and request a time when you know you WILL be home.
- For this exercise it is important that you (the researcher, not the parent) are there to accept delivery in order to report on whether you are asked for proof of age.
- If delivery is successful, take a picture of the delivered package, first when it is still in the shipping packaging and again when the package is opened. Be sure the picture includes the way bill (the documentation on the outside of the package).
- Take a selfie (the researcher) holding the item delivered, preferably after it is out of its package.
- Complete the questionnaire below.
- Collect receipts, pictures, and send everything to the email at the bottom of this page. Choose small image sizes if possible for sending via email.
Here is the list of questions to answer for each assigned retailer:
- Were you asked at any point to verify your age?
- What age did they ask you to verify (18, or 19?)
- If yes, how were you asked to verify your age?
- Were you able to successfully complete a purchase from the website?
- Were you able to successfully receive the delivery of the package?
- Were you asked to show proof of age in order to receive delivery of the package?
- If you were not able to take delivery of the package for a reason other than age, what was that reason?
Checklist for Materials to Send (when you've completed all steps in the research project)
- ▢ payment receipts for product(s) ordered
- ▢ age-verification screen shot for each assigned retailer
- ▢ screen shot of shopping cart before payment
- ▢ screen shot of shopping cart after payment
- ▢ pictures of the delivery package (before and after unwrapping)
- ▢ selfie with the ordered product
- ▢ completed questionnaire
Anonymity & confidentiality
- Research was conducted with the principle of anonymity for both teen researchers and the targeted retailers
- Signed forms and photos will be kept on file with the third-party contractor only and destroyed after six months.
Online e-cigarette retailers operating in Canada are selling products containing nicotine to teens as young as 14 years old. Teens are successfully buying in person and online, and retailers, couriers and postal agents are promoting, selling, delivering, and handing these products over, sometimes with no questions asked.
In a research exercise conducted this month with teens aged 14 to 17 years old in Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton, 11 online e-cigarette product retailers sold nicotine-containing products to these minors. And all but one of those were shipped and delivered with no age verification.
There are ways for online retailers of vaping, tobacco, and even marijuana products to safely and securely verify age at the point of purchase, thereby preventing these products from ending up in the hands of minors.
“In this rapidly developing regulatory environment online retailers of e-cigarette, vaping, combustion tobacco, and soon-to-come marijuana products should take steps to protect their business and the nation's youth,” says Dave McIntyre, senior developer at Inverite Verification, the company that has developed a product that allows for secure age verification for online transactions.