At 16 years old, Kayla Taylor can’t yet vote, gamble or buy alcohol or tobacco in Canada. But she can order e-cigarettes containing nicotine online.
“(The websites) would ask if you were over 18 and I would click ‘yes’,” Taylor said.
The Sherwood Park, Alta. teen participated in market research for Inverite Verification, a company that makes age-verification software.
Taylor and two other teens (in Winnipeg and Toronto) tried to buy vaping products with nicotine from 11 Canadian websites. They were successful in all but one.
Most websites didn’t ask for their ages and those that did required the purchaser to click a button if they were over 18 or 19.
The teens were also able to pick up their orders at the post office, despite labels on the packaging requiring the signature of an adult.
“For somebody who’s not educated on (the risks of) this kind of stuff, to be able to go and get it, it’s kind of scary,” Taylor said.
“I had no idea it would have been this easy, this consistently,” said Inverite spokesperson Boni Wagner-Stafford.
“I expected one or two (orders) maybe to get through, but it seems that the majority were having no trouble at all.”
Most provinces, except Alberta and Saskatchewan, have legislation that prohibits the use of e-cigarettes by minors. And vaping products containing nicotine require Health Canada approval before they can be sold in Canada.
Health Canada has approved no such products so far.
University of Alberta researcher and anesthesiologist Barry Finegan says young people need better protection.
“I think we make very diligent efforts around alcohol. We make reasonable efforts around conventional cigarettes,” Finegan said, “and right now, we make no efforts at all with respect to e-cigarettes.
“Inhaling any material on a chronic basis into your lungs, other than air, can have adverse effects.”
Bill S-5, currently before Parliament, would make criminal penalties possible for those who sell vapes to underage customers.
Inverite emailed its results to Health Canada. This is part of Health Canada’s reply:
Health Canada’s current compliance and enforcement approach for vaping products that contain nicotine, or that make therapeutic claims, is risk-based and complaint-driven. Companies, including online retailers, identified as selling non-compliant vaping products subject to the Food and Drugs Act are issued a stop-sale letter, and shipments of non-compliant vaping products are recommended for refusal at the border. The primary objective of Health Canada’s compliance and enforcement approach is to address non-compliance and to manage the risks to Canadians using the most appropriate level of intervention. If you have any additional information regarding these, or other potentially non-compliant products, you are encouraged to report this information using the following form.