CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — This spring marks the second year Chesterfield organizations have been running vape compliance checks across the community to test for illicit sales of vape pens and other paraphernalia to minors, and this year’s test revealed some concerning results.
8News previously covered the Chesterfield County Police Department and Chesterfield Substance Abuse Free Environment’s, or SAFE’s, crackdown on local businesses selling alcohol to underage people. Spring 2023 overall saw a decrease in businesses breaking the law.
Alcohol compliance checks in Chesterfield County have been conducted for around seven years, but vape compliance sales just began in 2022. Groups like Chesterfield SAFE started looking more closely at their accessibility to teenagers after hearing about an uptick in students getting their hands on them.
Compliance checks weren’t the first effort to minimize teenage vaping in Virginia. In 2019, the state raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The age limit change was part of a larger effort to deter young people from trying their hand at e-cigarettes.
Vaping has quickly gone from being marketed as a safe alternative to smoking to an addictive dangerous habit, according to health officials.
It’s also something Kathy Reed with Chesterfield SAFE, is passionate about protecting teens from.
“In our schools, vaping products are being confiscated at a high rate,” Reed said. “We’re thinking about where the youth get the tobacco products from. A lot of times they’re getting from the retailers.”
This idea prompted the decision for Chesterfield SAFE to partner with the Chesterfield County Police Department to expand their biannual alcohol compliance checks to include vape sale checks. These checks test retailers on whether or not they will make those illegal sales if clerks don’t think anyone is watching.
“Us going out doing these retailer violation checks lets the retailers know that it is against the law to sell to underage youth,” Reed said.
In 2022, the organizations sent young people under the age of 21 — secretly accompanied by police — to 41 stores to attempt to buy some form of a vape pen.
Of the 41 tested shops, five businesses made illegal sales. Reed explained how, while those aren’t necessarily high statistics, word spreads quickly amongst friend groups and schools. Any shop known by youth as a hotspot for easy access to vapes can be enough to provide seemingly innumerable volumes of students with e-cigarettes.
“We would like to see a zero-noncompliance rate,” Reed.
Spring 2023’s rounds broadened the scope, sending teens to 75 Chesterfield stores. This time, eight stores willfully made illicit sales. Reed shared how this round of tests exposed some shady business practices for those eight stores.
“The retailer asked for their I.D. and they checked I.D.,” Reed began. “Knowing that they were still under age, they still sold the products to the youth; so that’s that’s very alarming.”
When Chesterfield SAFE asked the public what issues they’re most worried about, parents let out a rallying cry to address the rise in vaping.
“We want our retailers to know that the law is they cannot sell to underage youth,” Reed said. “And if they do so, they will be held accountable.”
According to the CDC, in 2022, more than 2.5 million young people admitted to using or said they have used e-cigarettes. If you or your child need help quitting, resources are available. Learn more from Chesterfield SAFE or from Quit Now.