Canadian Retailers Improving on Underage Sales

Published in CSP Daily News

More than 80% refuse to sell tobacco to minors

OTTAWA -- For the first time, the rates of Canadian retailers refusing to sell tobacco products to youth have exceeded the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy's 10-year target objective of 80% or greater. Health Canada's 2004 annual report on Retailers' Behaviour Toward Certain Youth Access-to-Tobacco Restrictions survey found that 82.3% of retailers refused to sell cigarettes to youth.

I am very pleased with the results of this survey and I hope to see this trend continue, said Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh. This increase is an encouraging [image-nocss] sign that tobacco control measures are helping to reduce youth access to tobacco. I would like to thank the provinces and territories for their continued hard work in curbing tobacco use.

The survey results represent a vast improvement from the 1995 rate of 47.9%. The rates for 2002 and 2003 were 71.2% and 67.7% respectively.

The most significant factor in achieving this substantial change is the large increase that was seen in all visited cities in Quebec. This was most likely due to many related activities in the province's tobacco control efforts, including heightened compliance activities, an advertising campaign and proposed smoke-free legislation.

And for the second year in a row, merchants in Red Deer, Alberta, achieved 100% compliance with the federal law that bans the sale of tobacco to minors, added a Canadian Press report. No other city had a perfect rating. The city with the lowest compliance was Saint John, N.B., where only 48.4% of retailers refused to sell.

This increase in retailers not selling tobacco to youth does not necessarily translate into a reduction in youth smoking. About half of underage youth (aged 15 to 19) who smoke report getting cigarettes from retail outlets, said the research. Youth will seek out noncompliant retailers or obtain tobacco products from social sources such as friends or family. With still about one retailer in five being willing to sell cigarettes to youth, kids continue to have fairly easy access to tobacco.

The results come from 5,516 randomly selected tobacco-selling establishments (grocery supermarkets, chain convenience stores, independent convenience stores, pharmacies and gas stations) across cities in all provinces. The study, carried out in 30 cities, was conducted between July 5 and Oct. 4, 2004.

The survey found that retail clerks were more willing to sell tobacco to underage boys than underage girls, and were stricter about checking age before noon, becoming less vigilant as the day went on. The older the minor, the more likely he or she was to get the goods. Clerks were less likely to sell to a minor if there was another adult present in the store.

Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society welcomed the improvement, but noted that almost 20% of retailers will still sell smokes to minors. This is the highest compliance rate that's been recorded in the 10 years that the survey has been done. We know that the overwhelming majority of smokers begin as teenagers, we know that these laws have been on the books for many years, there's simply no excuse for retailers not to comply.

To view the complete report, click here.