PHUs have 'discretion' when enforcing Ontario's new vape rules: Ministry
C-stores not in compliance run the risk of being charged
It's fair to say the messaging around Ontario's new vaping regulations is confusing for operators and other industry stakeholders. As, CSNC has reported, implementation of the new regulations kicked in July 1, after being delayed from May 1.
Industry advocates had asked for more time, citing concerns about the pressure operators were under to keep their businesses up and running as essential services during the pandemic panic, as well as ongoing need for social distancing between vendors and operators.
The Ministry of Health agreed to focus on initial education, rather than in enforcement and in a statement last month said: “The Ministry expects businesses to continue to make best efforts to comply with these upcoming regulatory changes despite the circumstances and is not delaying the implementation of these amendments. The Ministry is however encouraging PHUs (public health units) to work with retailers to ensure compliance by providing and prioritizing education and awareness in the first few months of implementation. Consideration should be given to employing this approach until December 31, 2020.”
However, with PHUs in charge of oversight, it is important for c-store operators to note that this "consideration" will differ across the province.
In a new memo (printed in its entirety below), Dianne Alexander, director Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Ministry of Health, attempts to clear up any confusion, writing: "This means that SFOA inspectors maintain their discretion to lay charges for non-compliance with the new regulatory requirements where circumstances warrant."
This latest statement appears to contradict the earlier messaging from the Ministry, which talked about leeway until December 31.
The bottom line is that c-stores are responsible for compliance and run the risk of facing charges at the discretion of their local PHU. With that in mind, it's worth stressing that, as of July 1, operators are no longer permitted to sell:
Various flavoured vapour products, such as mango (c-stores can only sell tobacco, menthol and mint flavoured vapour products);
Vapour products with high nicotine concentrations (greater than 20 mg/ml).
From the Ministry of Health:
Dear Industry Stakeholders,
The Ministry of Health (‘ministry’) has recently been made aware of communications circulating among retailers from industry representatives about the implementation and enforcement of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 (SFOA, 2017) regulatory amendments that came into effect on July 1, 2020. The ministry takes this opportunity to provide clarity to ensure that the industry representatives and retailers are aware of the expectations for compliance with the regulatory amendments.
As previously communicated, the ministry is aware of the impact that COVID-19 is having on the normal operation of businesses. However, despite these circumstances, the Ontario government is not delaying the implementation of the regulatory amendments to the SFOA, 2017 that came into force on July 1, 2020. This means that, as of July 1, 2020, businesses are expected to comply with the regulatory amendments and Public Health Unit SFOA inspectors will be responsible for assessing compliance.
As with any requirement under the SFOA, 2017, SFOA inspectors will employ a progressive enforcement approach to achieve compliance with the new regulatory amendments through a balance of education, inspection and the use of warnings and graduated charging options to reflect the frequency and severity of non-compliance.
The ministry acknowledges that the timeline for achieving compliance may be impacted by the reduced or limited operational capacity of retailers during this time. Therefore, the ministry has asked SFOA inspectors to first prioritize education and awareness of the new requirements to support compliance among businesses. The ministry is encouraging SFOA inspectors to work collaboratively with non-specialty retailers to ensure prohibited vapour products are removed from stores, which may include returning flavoured vapour products and high nicotine-containing vapour products to suppliers (e.g., manufacturers and wholesalers) in order to comply with the new SFOA, 2017 regulatory requirements.
SFOA inspectors are provincial offences officers under the Provincial Offences Act and exercise independence in their approach to enforcing the SFOA, 2017. This means that SFOA inspectors maintain their discretion to lay charges for non-compliance with the new regulatory requirements where circumstances warrant.
The ministry hopes this information has been helpful and provides clarity with respect to enforcement of the new regulatory amendments. The ministry requests that you clarify the expectations around compliance with your respective retail partners as soon as possible.
Director, Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch
Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health