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Province using underage shoppers to test P.E.I. retailers willingness to sell tobacco to minors

West Prince businessman, David Peters, isn’t concerned about the Health Department using underage test shoppers to check retailers’ compliance with the Tobacco Products Act. His store’s policy is to ask for IDs when it appears a customer might be under the age of 19. ERIC MCCARTHY/JOURNAL PIONEER
West Prince businessman, David Peters, isn’t concerned about the Health Department using underage test shoppers to check retailers’ compliance with the Tobacco Products Act. His store’s policy is to ask for IDs when it appears a customer might be under the age of 19. ERIC MCCARTHY/JOURNAL PIONEER

ALBERTON - Charges have been laid against three Prince Edward Island retailers over the past year for breaching the Island’s tobacco laws.

All three charges relate to the sale of tobacco product or electronic smoking devices (ESD) to persons under the age of 19, all of who were test shoppers.

The provinces Environmental Health Office carries out routine annual inspections of retailers who sell tobacco or ESDs. Compliance checks using youth test shoppers are also carried out annually.

One of the compliance checks that resulted in a charge was in response to a complaint about a retailer for selling a tobacco product or ESD to a person under 19.

There were 155 compliance checks conducted in the past 12 months, a Department of Health and Wellness representative said.

Making it a routine practice of asking for identification when it appears a customer might be under 19 will help reduce the likelihood of a charge, suggests David Peters, owner of West Prince Video and Convenience in Bloomfield. He doesn’t know how many times over the years his business has been visited by a test shopper, but he’s fairly certain he met with one such pair of shoppers recently.

“They walked around to the back, looked at the pop, came up. One of the kids asked me for a pack of Colts. I said, ‘Really? Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, a pack of Colts.’
When asked, the shopper admitted he was not in possession of identification.

“They can’t lie,” he said of the test shoppers.

Since the test shoppers need to be younger than 19, Peters said it is more likely to encounter them over the summer or on other non-school days. The department isn’t trying to fool retailers, Peters said, noting the test shoppers even look like they are young enough that retailers should be asking for an ID.

Having a reputation of asking for identification, he said, has resulted in fewer under-aged smokers actually looking to purchase tobacco products from his store. There’s usually a bit of a blip early in a school year until the new crop of smokers learn about the store’s adherence to the policy.

It is also against the law for an adult to purchase tobacco products for an underaged smoker, Peters notes. He recalls one individual, upon being refused service because he didn’t have an ID, turning to his taller friend and asking him to buy the smokes. Peters simply refused the sale.

It’s to the point now, he said, that even customers in their 20s arrive with IDs in hand.

The Department of Health reports its goal is to complete a full round of compliance checks every year, independent of complaints received. Besides compliance checks, follow up on complaints can include inspection, retailer education and surveillance.

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