WDGPH Has Confiscated Nearly $45K in Illegal Vape Products
Over the past eight months, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has seized almost $45,000 in illegal vape products from various local shops.
One notable seizure occurred during a food inspection, where illegal vape products were hidden behind a false wall. In another case, a convenience store concealed these items in a makeshift container crafted from binders. Phil Wong, the environmental health manager at public health and head of the tobacco and vaping enforcement unit, remarked during a WDG Board of Health meeting, “That’s probably the most creative thing I’ve seen.” He added, “It really shows you the extent some of these operators will go to to continue to sell these illegal products.”
Violations under the Smoke Free Ontario Act can result in fines from $125 to $400 for selling vapes with nicotine levels above Canada’s legal limit, products not approved by Health Canada, or flavored products in non-specialty stores. The legal nicotine concentration in vape products is capped at 20 mg/ml, but Wong reported finding products with up to 50 mg/ml or more.
Some local stores have been caught selling imported products with unspecified nicotine levels, and one retailer was even mixing their own vape liquids. Wong noted a significant increase in tickets issued this year, attributing it partly to limited enforcement during the pandemic but also to a trend of non-compliance in the region.
Since the act’s implementation in 2017, over 90 notices of violations and tickets have been issued, with a majority happening this year. No tickets were given in 2018, 2019, 2021, or 2022, and only one in 2020, mainly due to the pandemic.
Many violations involved selling flavored vapes in inappropriate locations, but most infractions this year were for sales to minors.
Public Health conducts annual test shopping with 15 to 18-year-old students employed to buy tobacco or vape products. Of the 110 vape audits in the last eight months, 30% ended in a sale to a minor, a rate higher than ever before according to Wong.
Dr. Nicola Mercer, the medical officer of health, emphasized the seriousness of youth addiction to tobacco products, noting the lack of a cessation program for vaping, which often contains higher nicotine levels than cigarettes. She highlighted the challenge with vapes as users may not know when to stop, unlike with conventional cigarettes.
The common ingredients in vapes include propylene glycol, ethylene glycol, glycerol, flavoring, nicotine, and other chemicals. Although federally approved, their long-term impacts remain unknown.
Mercer stressed the need for government policy to better regulate the industry. Meanwhile, public health has launched online complaint tools for community members to report illegal products or sales to minors – separate ones for general community and school property use. Since their introduction in the fall, over 65 complaints and referrals have been made to tobacco enforcement officers.
Public health is also developing educational modules for youth and intensifying enforcement at retailers near schools.