Skip to main content

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

Premier David Eby says the move it to prevent children from coming into contact with the "hazardous" and "addictive" product.
head shot Sara McIntyre
Sara MacIntyre, CICC VP Western Canada

B.C.'s government has ordered that flavoured nicotine pouches only be sold from behind pharmacy counters in the province in what it calls an effort to prevent youth from becoming addicted: Until now, convenience and gas retailers were able to sell the products. 

Under the new order signed by Health Minister Adrian Dix on February 7, 2024, buyers of the pouches, which contain up to four milligrams of nicotine, will have to consult a pharmacist.

Premier David Eby said during a news conference that province is working to prevent children from coming into contact with the "hazardous" and "addictive" product, while Health Canada works to address rules that allowed them to be sold in convenience stores and gas stations.

In a statement, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) said it “is shocked and disappointed” by the announcement. 

“Adult smokers who want to quit are far more likely to try replacement therapy if it is available where they shop, often at their local convenience store. In essence, the government is making it harder for those that want to quit to find a replacement,” said Sara MacIntyre, vice-president for Western Canada.

At the news conference, Eby emphasized that nicotine use can cause changes in the brain of young people and the government wants to avoid them accessing products that experts say are designed to appeal to children.

Colette Lees, a substance-use liaison with the Surrey School District, told the news conference the allure of nicotine products with enticing flavours and marketed as harmless alternatives to smoking "have proven to be a huge challenge" to youth who are often unaware of their addictive nature.

The industry contends that pouches, available in a variety of flavours, are marketed to help adults quit smoking.

In a statement, Imperial Tobacco Canada (ITCAN), makers of Zonnic, said it firmly agrees that minors should not be able to purchase nicotine products, bit it is "extremely disappointed" that the Government of British Columbia is making it more difficult for smokers to access a product that can help them quit smoking.

“Let me be clear, we agree that kids should not be able to purchase Zonnic or any product that contains nicotine. Claiming that youth can access Zonnic in B.C. is completely inaccurate. We have gone above and beyond ensuring the product is behind the counter in convenience stores and gas stations and is sold after proper age-verification,” said Eric Gagnon, vice-president, corporate and regulatory affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada, adding: “If today’s announcement was truly about protecting youth against nicotine, we question why Premier Eby isn’t putting the same restrictions on the other cessation products that contain nicotine and are available over the counter without proof-of-age."

ITCAN also emphasizes that Zonnic was authorized for sale by Health Canada as a natural health product after a two-year review.

READ: Imperial Tobacco Canada aims to make quitting easier with Zonnic

“It is mindboggling that the only cessation product in B.C. that is currently stored behind the counter in convenience stores with retailers requiring age-verification is being targeted by today’s announcement,” said Gagnon.

When nicotine pouches launched in Canada last year, the CICC developed guidelines for its member retailers to keep these products behind the counter, age-restrict them in the same way as tobacco and vaping products and restrict in-store advertising.

MacIntyre said that if government was serious about limiting youth access to nicotine products, they would target the many on-line retailers that sell without age-verification and deliver right to the door. 

“The government did not consult with one store owner or industry member, not one phone call and unilaterally announced changes to one particular type of nicotine replacement product. It is nothing short of hypocrisy that nicotine gum and lozenges can be bought at the counter around the province at pharmacies but that nicotine pouches will now require pharmacists’ supervision.”

READ: Complacency in contraband is costing Canadians

The move by government takes no consideration of the impact on local businesses, said MacIntyre, adding “It’s not surprising that B.C. has the highest rate of store closures in the country. We will make our case to the government in the coming days to remind them of the importance of the corner store and how their decisions put our retailers in peril.” 

READ: Imperial Tobacco Canada asks federal and Ontario governments to tackel illegal tobacco

Calling nicotine pouches an innovative offer for smokers that are trying to quit, in developing retailer guidelines, the CICC maintained the new products presented an opportunity for the industry to reinforce its role as responsible community retailers.

“As responsible retailers, we developed and adopted guidelines for the sale of a product that was approved by Health Canada. This decision by the BC government punishes our local business owners who follow the law and are critical to the communities they serve, particularly in more remote areas,” said MacIntyre. “We will push the government to reconsider its decision and recognize that it unduly punishes law abiding retailers.”


-with files from The Canadian Press

Advertisement - article continues below

CICC: Guidelines on the Sale of Nicotine Pouches

Recently Health Canada has approved the sale of nicotine pouches as a nicotine replacement therapy smoking cessation product under the Natural Health Product Regulations, regulations which fall under the Food and Drugs Act. As a new and regulated product to the market, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada has developed a set of guidelines for the sale of nicotine pouches at retail member locations.

Although the sale of such products is not required to be age-gated, nor have restricted access or advertising, as responsible retailers we recognize the importance of maintaining appropriate practices of regulated products.

The CICC recommends retailers ensure the following:

1. Retailers should not sell nicotine pouches that are not approved by Health Canada

2. Nicotine pouches should be sold as an age-restricted product the equivalent to the

provincial legal age for the sale of tobacco at the point of purchase

3. Retailers should always ask any person who looks to be under the age of 25 to provide

valid, government issued photo-id to establish proof of age

4. Nicotine pouch products should be kept behind the counter

5. Retailers maintain reasonable efforts to avoid in-store advertising that may be seen to

target youth

In addition, CICC is updating its ID Please training program modules to include the sale of nicotine pouches as an age-gated product. 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds