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Students targeted by illegal vape sales at Greater Victoria schools

Police began investigating after hearing that people were going to middle schools and high schools to sell vaping products to students under the age of 18.

Just over $100,000 worth of vaping products destined for sale to youth at local schools has been seized by Saanich police detectives.

The seizure stems from an investigation that began in November after police received reports that people were going to middle schools and high schools in Saanich to sell vaping products to students under age 19.

“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 Const. Markus Anastasiades.

B.C. laws prohibit distribution of tobacco or ­vaping product to anyone under 19.

Over the course of the investigation, officers saw the products being sold at schools across the capital region, both during and after school hours.

People were also seen selling items to youth at malls and parks — even accepting payment through portable point-of-sale machines.

“They tried to make it as convenient as possible to sell their product,” Anastasiades said.

The products were put in food-delivery bags, duffle bags and plastic totes to conceal what they were.

Saanich’s Street Crime Unit and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team executed a search warrant on March 17 at a business in the 700-block of Vanalman Avenue in relation to the case.

Items located included vape kits, pens, e-cigarettes, e-liquids, tanks and disposable items, along with tobacco and liquids that were up to 98 per cent THC — the active ingredient in marijuana. Some of the liquid found was fruit-flavoured.

It was determined that the sellers were primarily using the social-media platform Snapchat to contact customers, then followed up by sending direct messages to confirm prices and set delivery times and locations.

No arrests have been made and the investigation continues.

Anastasiades said the operation was quite elaborate.

“It was sophisticated and had been going on for quite sometime.”

He said the sheer volume of items found is notable.

“And this is obviously only the amount that they had on hand at a certain time.”

Saanich School District superintendent Dave Eberwein said the scale of the seizure is alarming.

“I’m certainly glad the police were able to take that off of the streets,” he said. “That’s concerning, that amount of material that’s out there.”

“We’re very clear in our procedures that vaping isn’t allowed on school property and students shouldn’t be in possession of products.”

Eberwein said that anti-vaping and anti-smoking education is ongoing at district schools.

Island Health medical-health officer Dr. Murray Fyfe said youth are at the greatest risk from using vaping products with nicotine because the brain continues to develop until the age of 25.

“Nicotine changes the way synapses are formed, altering adolescent brain development, impacting concentration, impulse control, decision-making, cognitive performance, mood and nicotine withdrawal,” Fyfe 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.”

The long-term effects of the products are unknown, he said.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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