KSN Investigates: E-cigs and kids

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — E-cigarettes and the nicotine they deliver are off-limits to Kansas kids under 18 since 2012, but the state law does not specifically require retailers to card.

Last year, KSN found out firsthand that many stores are not checking the age of their customers. In fact, our special investigation revealed that out of 25 e-cig shops and convenience stores chosen at random around Wichita, 12 sold to our undercover customers without seeing an I-D.

“I didn’t know you had to be 18 to buy the juice,” said one clerk, unaware of the Kansas ban.

fda-rulesNow, it’s federal law. Effective August 8th, the FDA is regulating e-cigarettes and hookah, banning their sale to minors and requiring stores to check the photo I-D of anyone under 27.

RELATED | FDA: The Facts on the FDA’s New Tobacco Rule

KSN wanted to know if the threat of federal penalties would make retailers more careful to card.

Going Undercover

Just like last year, KSN recruited some young people to pose as customers– a Newman University student and two sisters. All three are old enough to legally buy e-cigs, but are well below 27 and should be carded by a clerk under the new federal law.

Testing The E-Cig Stores

We sent our volunteers into the same stores as last time, armed with a hidden camera, to see if they could buy e-cigarettes without an I.D. The results were much different.

Elizabeth, Sarah and Ralsten went undercover for KSN's story. (KSN photo)
Elizabeth, Sarah and Ralsten went undercover for KSN’s story. (KSN photo)

One store that had sold to our undercover customers last time without carding quickly asked for I-D this time.

Another store passed the test both times because the owner said kids have tried to buy e-cigs illegally in the past.

“But if you don’t have your card, can’t show us anything, we’re not going to sell to you,” he said emphatically.

In fact, all the e-cig shops checked I-Ds this time, except one—the same store that offered our undercover customers a sample last time, but no sale. This time, the clerk never hesitated to make the sale without carding.

When KSN confronted the store owner, he said it was an employee who had failed to follow his policy

“We I-D people. We turn ’em away for all kinds of purchases daily,” said the owner, who agreed that his clerk needed more training.

E-Cig Store Results

E-Cig Store Sell without ID? Address
Oct 2016 May 2015
316 Vapes No Yes 21st & Rock
Big E’s Vapor Shop East No No 946 S. Rock Road
E Cigs Plus No No 901 S. Seneca
E-Cigs Etc. No Yes 707 N. Mt. Carmel
Elements No No 515 S. Woodlawn
Lucky’s Vape & Smoke Yes No, gave sample 4100 E. Harry
Lucky’s Vape Lounge No No 575 W. Douglas
Puffs No No 3700 E. Douglas
Vapor E-Cigarettes No No 3137 W. Maple
Vapor Trail E Cigs No Yes 3570 N. Woodlawn

Testing the Convenience Stores

Next, our undercover customers went to the convenience stores. Last time, nine out of 15 sold e-cigs without carding, including all three QuikTrips we tested. This time, Wichita’s most common convenience store passed with flying colors.

QT spokesperson, Mike Thornbrugh, said, “Batting 100% means we really are putting a lot of emphasis on doing the right thing.”

He said the training that QuikTrip did with clerks after KSN’s last story made all the difference.”

“Yea, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said Thornbrugh. “We try to do refreshers all the time.”

But not all convenience stores do. One clerk seemed confused about the law. When asked if he’d been trained to card, he said, “No. Not really.”

Another clerk told us that sometimes he was too busy to card customers, while another said he thought our undercover customers looked old enough to legally buy e-cigs.

In the end, three convenience stores failed to check I-Ds. Add in the one e-cig shop, and KSN’s investigation turned up four violations out of 25 stores, for a compliance rate of 84%.

Convenience Store Results

Convenience Store Sell without ID? Address
Oct 2016 May 2015
1 Stop / Phillips 66 No No 802 N West
Casey’s General Store No No 3540 S. Meridian
Family Mart No Yes Harry & Meridian
Flying Eagle No No 277 S Ridge Rd
Johnson’s General Store No Yes 1003 S Seneca St
Kwik Shop No No 2142 N Webb Rd
Kwik Shop No No 6327 E 13th St N
Noori Convenience Store Yes Yes 801 S. Oliver
Valero (was Phillips 66) Yes Yes Hillside & Kellogg
Valero (Phillips 66 Food Mart) Yes Yes 7101 E Lincoln St
Presto Phillips 66 No Yes 1254 S. Tyler Rd.
QuikTrip No Yes 626 W. 21st St
QuikTrip No Yes 2510 W. Pawnee
QuikTrip No Yes 324 S West St
Stop ‘n Shop No No 1826 W 13th St N

Kansas Department of Revenue response

Inspectors with the Kansas Department of Revenue said their undercover enforcement sees even higher compliance.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the education from the FDA,” said Tara Nolen of Tobacco Free Wichita. “They’re sending a lot of good, helpful materials.”

She said the FDA is making stores step up their game when it comes to carding, as well as new requirements over the next two years for e-cigs to list their ingredients and health warnings.

“Y’know, they’re touted as fun, fruity flavors, things like that,” said Nolen, “and I don’t think a lot of people realize they can be harmful.”

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