Saanich Police have dismantled an illegal vape ring, seizing over $100,000 worth of vaping products that were being sold to underage students at local schools across the Greater Victoria area.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Saanich police say an investigation into the operation has been ongoing since November 2022, following reports of individuals selling vaping products to minors at middle and high schools in Saanich.
The suspects operated both during and after school hours, extending their activities to malls and parks, according to police.
The investigation revealed that the sellers primarily used the social media platform Snapchat to advertise their products. Direct messages were sent to confirm prices and schedule delivery times and locations, police say.
Payments were accepted via cash or cards, with the latter being processed through portable point of sale machines. The sellers concealed their activities using food delivery service bags, duffle bags, or plastic totes.
As they advanced their investigation, police, including Saanich detectives and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, executed a warrant at a business in the 700-block of Vanalman Avenue last Friday, March 17.
They then located and seized $100,000 in vaping products, including vape kits, pens, e-cigarettes, tanks, e-liquids, disposables, as well as liquids containing up to 98 per cent THC content and some tobacco products.
The warrant was executed under the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, which states that distributing tobacco or vaping products to individuals under the age of 18 is prohibited.
“It is clear that the items are branded and marketed in such a way to entice youth into buying them, and these individuals specifically targeted schools to sell their products,” said Saanich Police spokesperson Const. Markus Anastasiades in a statement.
A particular concern for police was the discovery of some products containing a staggering 98 per cent THC, a much higher dosage than typically found in a joint. Const. Rob Winter of Saanich Police expressed concern about young people using such concentrated products.
“Somebody who’s using this and doesn’t understand the potency of these things, there are some dangers in terms of having the adverse effects of THC that you wouldn’t necessarily want when you’re consuming cannabis for recreational use,” he said.
No arrests have been made or charges recommended so far, as no suspects have been identified. The investigation is still ongoing.
The rapid rise in popularity of vaping has become a significant health concern, particularly among young people, with HealthLink BC warning that vapour products and electronic cigarettes are not harmless. While they are legally sold to individuals over 19 years old, children, youth, and non-smokers should avoid using them, as well as pregnant women.
Health officials, including South Island Medical Health Officer Murrary Fyfe, are stressing the risks vaping poses to not-yet fully developed brains.
“Youth are at most risk using vapour products with nicotine as brains continue to develop up until age 25. Nicotine changes the way synapses are formed altering adolescent brain development impacting concentration, impulse control, decision-making, cognitive performance, mood, and nicotine withdrawal,” he said in a statement.
“Youth who use vapour products with nicotine may be at increased risk to use other harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. In addition, vapour products can contain potentially harmful substances and the long-term health effects of these products are unknown.”
North America has experienced a number of severe lung distress cases linked to vaping, resulting in numerous hospitalizations and even fatalities. For those who smoke or vape, it is essential to maintain a safe physical distance and avoid doing so indoors, as exposure to vapour or aerosols may pose health risks.