Despite ongoing requests for an extension, Ontario is moving ahead with the July 1 deadline for new amendments to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, which brings with it more restrictive rules for c-store operators when it comes to the sale of vaping products.
These changes, part of the Government of Ontario’s efforts to curb youth vaping, were announced in January and were initially to come into play May 1. However, as governments and retailers dealt with the ramifications of COVID-19 on business and health, they were delayed until July 1.
The new amendments:
Restrict the sale of flavoured vapour products to specialty vape stores and licensed cannabis retail stores. C-stores can only sell tobacco, menthol and mint flavoured vapour products;
Restrict the sale of vapour products with high nicotine concentrations (greater than 20 mg/ml) to specialty vape stores.
Both the Convenience Industry Council of Canada and the Ontario Convenience Stores Association were advocating to further delay the implementation of the new regulations, citing the efforts by c-store to adjust to the new normal of operating during the pandemic and the ongoing need for distancing. In an effort to comply with safety measures, many vendors are not visiting stores right now.
However, in a memo from Smoke Free Ontario addressed to industry stakeholders Monday, the Ministry of Health indicated it was going ahead with the July 1 deadline, while also making efforts to recognize the challenges.
“The government of Ontario is aware that COVID-19 is having an impact on the normal operation of businesses. Retailers that have been closed may require more time to adjust their business practices to comply with the new regulatory amendments,” Dianne Alexander, director Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Ministry of Health, wrote in the memo. “With these circumstances in mind, the Ministry has asked Public Health Unit (PHU) Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA) inspectors to work with businesses to ensure compliance by first prioritizing education and raising awareness of the new requirements.”
“It doesn't appear that the Ministry of Health or SFOA are considering an extension to vape regulations as requested by many groups, including the OCSA,” said president and CEO Dave Bryans, noting that while tobacco inspectors may show some leniency, past experience dictates this will not be for a long period of time. “I suggest a quick rationalization of flavours and strengths over the next two weeks to minimize exposure for the business, while awaiting credits for these products.”
As the government moves ahead with the new regulations, it says it has developed resources to help businesses understand the changes—these include a training guide for retailers and links to additional information on the Ministry’s website. C-stores are advised to contact their local PHU for information to access these tools.
CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala is calling on the government to provide more clarification, especially when it comes to a drop-dead compliance date. She cites a lack of coordination and harmonization between already already busy PHUs and is concerned the lack of consistency in terms of enforcement will create an uneven playing field among retailers and manufacturers in different regions.
In addition, CICC maintains that convenience stores, which already sell age-restricted products, such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery, are in an ideal position to sell vapes and accessories.
"C-stores are being singled out with no factual basis," Kothawala says, adding the new rules do little to address the youth vaping crisis and put more power in the hands of vape store operators. "In terms of age compliance and testing, we have the best track record."
Officially, c-stores will have until July 1 to sell out or return to suppliers their existing inventory of higher nicotine and flavours that fall outside the new regulations.
Last week, the Federal Government announced it was postponing the enforcement of regulations regarding packaging of vape products in Canada to January 1, 2021 from July 1, 2020. The move gives the industry a clear deadline for compliance and time to make the necessary changes to its operations. It was expected that that Provincial Government would follow suit.