Sask. audit report highlights inconsistencies in inspection, enforcement of vape shops

Click to play video: 'Gaps in tobacco law enforcement affecting youth'
Gaps in tobacco law enforcement affecting youth
WATCH: The Saskatchewan auditor has released her second report of the year highlighting a number of concerns about government operations. Among them, shortfalls in the work the province is doing to prevent youth from using tobacco. – Dec 8, 2021

Saskatchewan provincial auditor Tara Clemett said the government needs to improve its monitoring of the health authority’s enforcement of the sale, promotions and use of tobacco and vapour products.

Clemett released her findings in the Provincial Auditor’s 2021 Report – Volume 2, Chapter 15 on Wednesday.

In the report, Clemett examined the health ministry’s processes used to monitor the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) enforcement of provincial legislative requirements relating to tobacco and vapour products. Clemett found the ministry has improvement to make in its monitoring of the SHAs “inconsistent enforcement.”

The ministry hires youth to attempt to buy tobacco and vapour products during inspections at retailers.

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The report found that the ministry of health does not sufficiently monitor whether youth test shopper inspections are done annually, or that warning letters and violation notices are delivered promptly to non-compliant retailers.

Click to play video: 'New Saskatchewan regulations won’t address youth vaping issues: CICC'
New Saskatchewan regulations won’t address youth vaping issues: CICC

The auditor’s analysis found that 55 per cent of the 225 retail locations that previously sold to youth test shoppers didn’t undergo another inspection within the expected six months. The audit found that re-inspections ranged from seven months to two years after the previous inspection date.

Retailers were also not notified of their non-compliance “promptly.” The auditor’s report found that it took up to nine weeks after the violation for retailers to be notified.

Clemett told reporters on Wednesday that the ministry does not have a formal timeframe of sending violation notices out, but they aim to do so within three weeks of the violation.

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The audit found that 19 per cent of more than 1,200 retail locations in Saskatchewan did not undergo an annual inspection by SHA tobacco enforcement officers in 2020-21. It also found that the health ministry has not determined “clear rationale and guidance for routine inspection frequency.”

“We always encourage and expect that agencies really have risk-based approaches in place. If the ministry decides that it wants to undertake annual routine inspections, if it wants to undertake annual youth tests shopper inspections, that may be reasonable,” Clemett said.

“But there probably is always a matter of when you identify through those inspections that non-compliance does exist, that you would return more frequently to the retailers that are violating and breaking the law to make sure that they don’t continue to do so,” she added.

By not performing routine inspections often, for example annually, there is an increased risk that retailers don’t comply with the law, Clemett stated.

Health Canada’s 2018-19 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drug Survey found that 33 per cent of Grade 7 to 9 students and 61 per cent of Grade 10 to 12 students in Saskatchewan had tried vaping (with or without nicotine.)

The audit said the health ministry needed to maintain a complete list of retail locations selling tobacco and vapour products, and provide detailed guidance, including timelines, to tobacco enforcement officers on how to handle complaints.

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Clemett said that during the audit, nine retail locations were identified that were not in the ministry’s IT system, meaning they weren’t subject to regular inspection.

The health ministry provides the SHA with about $797,000 in grants for its smoking and vaping prevention, cessation and enforcement activities.

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