B.C. convenience stores unfairly targeted in new nicotine pouch restrictions

UKCIA and BCKBA say industry was not properly consulted and fear increase in illegal trafficking.
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The recent decision by the David Eby B.C. government to restrict the sale of nicotine pouches to pharmacies has been met with surprise and concern by Canada's largest independent coalition of independent convenience store operators. 

Before the announcement by the B.C. government, convenience stores, licensed to sell tobacco products, had been permitted to offer these items, which are regarded as effective smoking cessation aids.

The United Korean Commerce & Industry Association of Canada (UKCIA) and the British Columbia Korean Businessmen's Association (BCKBA) have come together to say they are united in their opposition to this decision. They warn that this decision will only benefit the illegal trade of such products throughout the province while hurting small business.

Kenny Shim, president of the Ontario-based UKCIA, met with his British Columbia counterpart, Park Man Ho, to voice their shared concerns and disapproval of the B.C. government's decision. In a statement made at the BCKBA head office in Burnaby, Shim criticized the lack of consultation with the sector.

"While we stand by the goal of protecting minors from age-restricted products, convenience stores across the country have demonstrated an exemplary track record in ID verification,” Shim says. “It's disheartening that the BC government's announcement overlooks this achievement. Small business owners feel marginalized and distrustful, given that our insights and cooperation were not sought in this decision.”

In 2020, the B.C. government's ban on the sale of vaping products in convenience stores came with assurances that it would prevent underage purchases. However, instances of minors using vape products persist, and there is no evidence to suggest stricter age verification is enforced at vape shops. 

READ: Convenience industry blindsided as B.C. moves flavoured nicotine pouches behind pharmacy counters

The black market thrives unchecked, while law-abiding convenience store operators face disproportionate consequences. This inequity is fundamentally unfair, adds UKCIA.

Since 2010, organizations such as the UKCIA have alerted federal and provincial authorities to the escalating issue of black-market trafficking in unregulated and untaxed products. The sale of contraband cigarettes has now expanded to include vaping products and nicotine pouches, many of which are manufactured with significantly higher nicotine concentrations. The problem of black market products has recently exploded in BC with the illicit market reportedly controlling up to 50% of sales according to a 2022 media report.

Independent convenience stores will be conveying to Premier Eby's government that they are not the source of underage access to restricted products. The recent policy change, rather than addressing the root causes of illegal trafficking, seems to penalize responsible small business owners and bolster criminal operations.

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