Columbus retailers get D- for checking IDs on e-cigarette purchases

In this Wednesday, April 11, 2018 photo, an unidentified 15-year-old high school student uses a vaping device near the school's campus in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Teen vaping dangers
Checking stores on asking for IDs for e-cigarettes

COLUMBUS - In the city of Columbus, there are more than 800 licensed e-cigarette retailers.

Retailers that range from vape stores to gas stations and smoke shops. All are supposed to follow the law under the Tobacco 21 program.

"If the person is under 30 years of age you need to card them, that is part of the law," said John Richter who heads the Environmental Health Division for Columbus Public Health.

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But not everyone is listening.

According to Columbus Public Health statistics, from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018, health investigators on average found just 62 percent of the time retailers checked IDs. That's a D-.

"We're finding that 99 percent who are actually selling to our underage buyers, they don't even check ID," Richter said.

Armed with an undercover camera, 10 Investigates randomly checked 16 retailers across the Columbus area to see if we could buy e-cigarette products without showing identification.

We had a 10TV employee, who is 24 years old, go into these stores and make a purchase.

At Avail Vapor off Bethel Road in Columbus, employees wouldn't let us in the door until we showed ID. Then checked it again at the point of sale.

But we also found holes in the system.

At the GetGo Station on West 3rd Street in Columbus, we bought Juul pods without an ID check. After paying about $17 she walked out with a pack of four Juul pods.

When asked, the employee said it was just a mistake they made for not carding her. It wasn't the only place we found.

We headed to a Speedway on West 5th Avenue in Columbus.

Before you enter the store, there's a sticker on the front door.

After paying $17, we had our packet of four Juul pods without an ID check.

The clerk told us he had been working since early this morning and he just forgot.

“We just had a couple people quit and all that, and I've been working other people's shifts and it just didn't cross my mind,” they said.

Stores that sell to those under 21 are punished by fines.

Since 2016, 14 stores have received $1,000 fines for repeated violations, according to Health Department statistics. Sixty-five stores have received $500 fines for a first offense.

Micah Berman, who studies e-cigarette use among Ohio teenagers, says putting the product in the hands of teenagers is just part of the problem.

"The other thing that is terrifying about e-cigarettes is that we don't know the long-term effects. Our kids are essentially guinea pigs," he said.

In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students reported they use e-cigarettes.

Health experts worry about another generation hooked on nicotine.

"The early you use nicotine the more likely you are to have a lifelong addiction," Berman said.

One Juul cartridge is roughly equal to the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes, or about 200 puffs.

Initially, they were marketed to adults as a safer alternative to cigarettes. But research also found the product was also a hit with kids.

Last month, Juul launched a new ID check system to guard against those under 21 from buying e-cigarettes online.

According to Juul's website, it involves customers entering the last four digits of their social security number, a photo of their driver's license, and what it calls an advance fake ID detection algorithm using human verification experts.

Juul announced last year, it would stop sales of its fruit-flavored nicotine pods in retail stores and shut down its Facebook and Instagram pages in the U.S.