Fair Go: Vape shops selling to 14 year olds with almost no checks

Just six vape stores have been issued with infringement notices since under-18 sales were banned nearly two years ago, but a Fair Go hidden camera investigation found three in one city in an afternoon.

Health authorities say they’ve been busy with the Covid-19 response.

“Our public health services will now be able to focus more on our important compliance and enforcement activity, including sales of vaping products,” Te Whatu Ora -Health NZ said in a statement.

It still can’t say right now how many compliance visits and controlled purchase operations have been carried out.

Fair Go sought the information after conducting its own covert checks on vaping retailers in Tūranganui a kiwa, Gisborne.

Mystery shoppers wearing hidden cameras and microphones attempted to buy vape pods from dairies and specialist stores. Fair Go found three stores that was prepared to sell to a 17-year-old without asking for ID first and one that was prepared to sell to a 14-year-old.

One of those retailers, who Fair Go has chosen not to name says, “we are human, we make mistakes. We work long hours. The kids are continually trying to buy vapes”.

Te Tairāwhiti public health authorities have run two controlled purchase operations in Gisborne this year and caught one retailer selling a vape item to a minor.

"The retailer was referred to the Ministry of Health," said Dr Anura Jayasinghe, Medical Officer of Health, Te Whatu Ora – Tairāwhiti.

"The Public Health Unit followed up the controlled purchase operations by sending all vape vendors in the region educational information about their legal responsibilities."

"It’s an epidemic amongst youth," said Asthma & Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding.

The foundation is calling for changes to limit the number of stores and how close they can be to schools. It also wants the maximum nicotine level reduced in line with the European Union standard of 20mg/100mL.

"There's fifty milligrams of nicotine in these vape pods and we're hearing from teenagers and parents saying their kids are going through a pod, 50 mg in two or three hours.

"That's the equivalent of a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes,” said Harding.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall says she has no plans to review the strength of vapes.

"We need to continue supporting people who smoke tobacco to successfully switch to less harmful products. Reducing nicotine levels in vaping products may hinder this,” Verrall said in a statement.

Last week, Verrall introduced a Bill to Parliament that, among other things, would also tighten rules for vaping shops.

The new law would also require thousands of dairies, service stations and supermarkets to be licensed, joining 830 specialist stores that earn most of their income from selling vaping products in R18 premises which must be licensed now.

Verrall and Te Whatu Ora – Health NZ are both promising more compliance checks and enforcement of vaping laws.