Teen Vaping ‘Epidemic’ & What Retailers Can Do
Research shows a rise in youth use of e-cigarettes and vaping
The FDA is further ramping up enforcement on retailers.
- The FDA Commissioner has called teen e-cigarette use an “epidemic.”
- FDA announced the single largest concentrated enforcement effort ever against bricks-and-mortar stores.
- FDA reportedly plans banning convenience stores from selling flavored e-cigarettes.
- FDA announces pursuit of major retail chains.
- FDA plans to discuss issue with state Attorneys General.
What you can do: Make sure your store is trained and equipped to identify minors through “carding” and then deny those underage purchase attempts. And consider mystery shopping your store if you’re not doing so already.
And how are retailers doing after 1 million FDA compliance checks?
FDA does not issue a compliance rate or even a violation rate but instead focuses on reporting violations. We’ve taken a look at some numbers using FDA’s enforcement database. FDA reported data includes a list of “No Violations” where minors’ attempted to purchase age-restricted products and retailers “carded” and denied a sale.
Here’s what we found.
Since FDA enforcement began in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2011, FDA has conducted more than one million compliance checks of retail stores. Nearly 73% of those 1 million inspections involved minors’ attempts to buy FDA-regulated products. Take a look at the numbers over the last eight years. See chart
While FDA cautions about drawing any hard conclusions, what we do know is that after hundreds of thousands of checks, including just the last four months, we are seeing a rate of underage sale/violation of approximately 12%. So generally speaking, using these numbers, a teen succeeds 1 in 10 attempts.
Of course, whatever the violation rate, retailers are part of the solution and your store needs to be in full compliance as one illegal sale is one too many.
We would suggest that you consider some of these immediate actions:
- Re-Train all employees now on handling age-restricted products.
- Consider We Card’s eLearning Training (Employee, Refresher & Manager courses.)
- Re-circulate your written company policy on preventing tobacco and e-cigarette sales to minors (you’re supposed to have one. Use We Card’s template to customize one if you don’t.)
- In fact, get every employee to read & sign it. Better yet, have Store Managers orally deliver the company policy as well, and have employees sign it and keep it in your employee records.
- Use a mystery shopping service to gauge their performance at “carding” customers. Don’t wait for a violation to know how your employees are performing. This is a We Card Best Practice. Consider We Card’s ID Check-Up mystery shopping service where you can schedule mystery shops of your stores to check on attempted e-cigarette, tobacco or alcohol purchases.
- Post the state-government required signage in your store (if your state requires it). Many states require these signs. See our State Sign Requirements in our online Resource Center.
- Equip your employees with Age Calculation Tools – Cash Register prompts, ID bar code scanning, age-of-purchase calendars – it’s not easy to calculate a customer’s age. Why risk failure? And, train employees to use the tools! See We Card’s Calendar, our Age Checker App that scans driver’s license bar codes, or our digital tools at wecardnow.
- Display We Card signage throughout the store. Signs remind employees to stay on task and deny illegal sales, and they put customers on notice about your carding practices.
- Embrace Best Practices: Have your management review (and we recommend adopt) our We Card Best Practices.
- Deny adult purchases for minors. It’s illegal in most states. We Card trains on this subject and we have Don’t BUY for Minors signage that discourages customers from doing so. And remember, adults can often willingly or unwillingly provide an avenue for underage access to age restricted products. Retailers do not have to sell a product if they suspect an adult is purchasing for someone underage.
And to reinforce how serious the FDA is, we offer this quote from the FDA Commissioner:
"we’re also writing the corporate management of a number of large, national retail chains to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ non-compliance and put them on notice that the FDA is considering additional corporate-wide enforcement avenues to address violative tobacco sales to youth, which have also included illegal sales of e-cigarettes to kids." 2/11/19
Remember every step you take to ensure your stores are complying is a step away from a steep fine or penalty and possibly unwanted public attention.
Re-invigorate your compliance efforts now and be part of the solution to combat youth e-cigarettes and vape use.
The We Card Program, Inc.
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