Age verification crackdown at vape stores in bid to prevent underage sales
The next time you visit a vape or e-cigarette retail store in the country, make sure you have your ID.
Retailers that sell electronic cigarette (e-cig) and combustible tobacco products could ask for age verification before selling electronic vapour products (EVPs) as part of a drive to prevent underage sales.
This is just one of the guidelines vape and electronic cigarette retail stores are now reinforcing.
The vaping industry has come under intense scrutiny recently amid a wave of underage vaping.
There has been criticism that the industry has done little to prevent sales to underage customers, and that vape products are being directly marketed to teenagers.
Although EVPs were developed as harm reduction tools to assist adult smokers to reduce or quit smoking, the appeal these products holds for under-18s continues to be a hot topic in the media.
Countries such as the UK, New Zealand, and Australia have restricted the sale of these products to minors.
In South Africa, the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) has launched the Youth Access Prevention campaign aimed at retailers of vaping products, and to assist in raising awareness of EVPs and other electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) products among parents.
“We launched this important campaign as we believe red-flagging this issue is of paramount importance,” said Asanda Gcoyi, VPASA CEO.
“The fundamental we cannot afford to forget is that most e-liquids contain nicotine, and that vaping was created for smokers seeking a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes.
Prematurely exposing young people to an addictive substance such as nicotine is incorrect, he said.
“As an association, we want to play our role in ensuring that these products are kept out of the hands of minors. We want to create a responsible industry and most importantly, educate people who may not know that vaping is not for people who have never smoked, but rather for smokers seeking a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes.”
Gcoyi said the launch of the campaign was delayed by the pandemic.
“Across the globe, there is growing concern over the easy access to vaping products by young people.
“As an industry that is not regulated, we thought it would be important to lead the charge and be proactive on the continent about advocating that these products are not for young people.”
This stance had been embedded in VPASA’s code of conduct since its inception, he said.
“It’s always been an area of self-regulation for the industry, but we’ve realised that it’s equally important to share that with the public so they are fully aware of our position as an industry on the issue of young people using these products.”
“It’s equally important for us to elevate the educational component of electronic vapour products (EVPs).
“This is also an opportunity to get those retailers who may not be members of VPASA to join a cause that is extremely important.”
More than 65% of the South African vaping industry already holds VPASA membership.
“While we don’t have much say over those who are not members, we hope this campaign will encourage them to become cognisant about the need to prevent youth access to these products.”
He said the association had created several other guidelines.
“These guidelines are twofold to address the fact that people access vapour products at physical stores as well as online.
“With physical stores, we’ve provided all our members with guidelines in terms of what types of signage need to be visible, for example, point-of-sale signs that say no sales will be made to under-18s and posters that tell customers they may need to provide ID when purchasing vapour products.
“So if a customer looks young, the seller has the right to verify their age by asking for ID, and knowing that upfront as a customer is important.”
Online EVP retailers have also been asked to add age gateways to their portals that will require consumers to enter their date of birth, said Gcoyi.
“Over and above the double age verification and the payment through credit cards, we have asked online retailers to partner with courier companies that will verify a customer’s age on delivery and refuse to deliver should the customer be under-18.”
“These are just a couple of examples of what the industry is doing.”
He said the association would also conduct "undercover“ shopping across the country to provide an independent review of the application of the policy guidelines by members, which comprise just over 60% of the industry.
Gcoyi said communication with members indicated underage usage was not currently a serious problem.
Gcoyi adds that parents’ role in educating their children on vaping was crucial.
“It is imperative that young people are educated. This product is a scientifically proven harm-reduced tool for smokers looking for a less harmful alternative.”
Gcoyi says the main objective of the campaign is to educate consumers.
“We want to educate consumers on the importance of having the choice to use less-harmful alternatives to cigarettes, educate retailers and parents on the importance of preventing young people from accessing these products that are harmful to their development, and educate the larger public about why these products exist.”
Gcoyi added that should EVP retailers which have signed the VPASA code of conduct pledge be found guilty of selling products to under 18s, they would face a disciplinary procedure which may result in explusion.