Note: the following has been adapted from the Government of Ontario's Smoke-Free Ontario Act (2017) fact sheet: How the Act Affects: Tobacco and Vapour Product Retailers. Ce document est disponible en Français. Pour obtenir plus d'information, veuillez communiquez avec un agent avec le bureau de santé publique aux numéro suivant (807) 625-5900.
The Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 (SFOA, 2017) prohibits the smoking of tobacco, the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to vape any substance, and the smoking of cannabis (medical and recreational) in enclosed workplaces and enclosed public places, as well as other designated places in Ontario, to protect workers and the public from second-hand smoke and vapour.
Tobacco and Vapour Products Retailers
Retailers have a legal responsibility to ensure that they and their employees understand and comply with the requirements under the SFOA, 2017.
Tobacco products include:
- Pipe tobacco;
- Heat-Not-Burn tobacco (heat sticks or capsules); and
- Other specialty tobacco products (including chewing tobacco, snus and snuff).
Vapour products include:
- Electronic cigarettes and components;
- E-liquid (e.g.,‘e-juice’); and
- E-liquid pods.
Age Restrictions on Sale and Supply of Tobacco Products and Vapour Products
The SFOA, 2017 prohibits the sale or supply of tobacco products or vapour products to anyone who is less than 19 years old. The Act also prohibits the sale or supply of tobacco or vapour products to anyone who appears to be younger than 25 years old unless ID is provided and the retailer is satisfied that the person is at least 19 years old.
Restrictions on the Retail Sale of Flavoured Tobacco and Vapour Products
The sale of flavoured tobacco and vapour products is regulated under the SFOA, 2017. It is against the law to sell or offer to sell flavoured tobacco products at retail, unless the flavoured tobacco product is exempt from this prohibition. See Fact Sheet on Flavoured Tobacco Products for more information.
It is also against the law to sell or offer to sell flavoured vapour products at retail, unless you are a Specialty Vape Store or Cannabis Retail Store or the flavoured vapour product is exempt from this prohibition. See Fact Sheet on How the Act Affects: Flavoured Vapour Products for more information.
Restrictions on the Display of Tobacco Products, Branded Tobacco Accessories and Vapour Products
Tobacco and vapour products must not be displayed in a retail store. In addition, tobacco product accessories associated with a brand of tobacco (branded tobacco accessories) (e.g., lighters)alsocannot be displayed. This means:
- Tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories, and vapour products must be hidden from view before they are purchased.
- Customers are not allowed to handle tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories, or vapour products before they purchase
- Store owners must ensure that tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories, and vapour products are not displayed to a potential consumer while re-stocking, conducting inventory checks or opening the storage units at any other time.
- The brief time when a seller opens and closes the storage unit and transfers the product to a customer following purchase is not considered “displaying” the product.
Any inappropriate display of tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories, or vapour products – whether intentional or unintentional – could result in charges to the salesperson or store owner.
Examples of acceptable tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories, or vapour product storage and dispensing systems include:
- Overhead containers where only the clerk can see the products;
- Below-the-counter drawers or cabinets where only the clerk can see the products;
- Single package dispensing, gravity-fed devices; Devices that cover shelves with a top-hinge “flip up” cover that close automatically or immediately by gravity. These must be no larger than 30.5 cm (or one foot) in height by 61 cm (two feet) in length, and must open one at a time;
- Slim drawers that open in sections and expose only the spine of cigarette packages; and
- Countertop devices and rotating trays of tobacco and vapour products where only the clerk can see them.
Examples of unacceptable tobacco products or branded tobacco accessories storage and dispensing systems include:
- ‘Garage door’ style covers which, when open, show a large portion of tobacco products, branded tobacco accessories or vapour products;
- Large cupboards which, when open, allow the customer to see a large selection of the products;
- Retrofit devices that “flip down” on a bottom hinge, that do not close automatically and would remain open unless properly closed;
- Curtains or blinds; and
- Horizontal sliding doors such as closet doors.
Small tags are permitted on the outside of storage units to help a clerk find the particular products contained in each unit. However, in the case of tobacco and branded tobacco accessories, the tags must:
- Use black type on a white background;
- Use letters up to 14 point type size;
- Not use logos or colour;
- Not be larger than 2” x 1” (5 cm x 2.5 cm); and
- Not include price information.
Restrictions on the Promotion of Tobacco Products, Tobacco Accessories, and Vapour Products
The SFOA, 2017 prohibits stores from promoting the sale of tobacco products, tobacco accessories and vapour products by means of any commercial act or practice or use of any commercial communication, through any media or other means that is intended to or is likely to:
- Encourage its purchase or use or the purchase or use of a particular brand; or
- Create an awareness of or an association with it, or with a brand or a manufacturer or seller.
A retailer may post up to three signs in total referring to sale of tobacco products, tobacco product accessories, or vapour products in order to inform customers that they sell tobacco products, tobacco product accessories, or vapour products.
- The size of the sign cannot be greater than 968 square centimeters.
- The sign must have black text and white background.
- The text of a sign must not be visible from outside the store.
- The sign must not identify a brand of tobacco, tobacco accessory, or vapour product.
A retailer may also make available an informational document (e.g., brochure, catalogue) about tobacco products, tobacco product accessories, or vapour products, and their price, if the following conditions are met:
- The document is only be made available for viewing inside the retail store and is not removed from the store; and
- The document cannot be viewed by a person who is less than 19 years old, other than the owner or occupier of the retail store or one of their employees. (For the purposes of this condition, a person who appears to be less than 25 years old is deemed to be less than 19 years old unless the person making the document available has required that person to provide identification and is satisfied that the person is at least 19 years old).
Exemptions for Tobacconists and Specialty Vape Stores
Retailers that wish to display and promote tobacco products and branded tobacco accessories or vapour products must register as tobacconists or specialty vape stores. See Fact sheets for Tobacconists and Specialty Vape Stores for more information.
Exemption for Cannabis Retail Stores
Cannabis Retail Stores (within the meaning of the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018), are exempt from the prohibition on promoting vapour products in the SFOA, 2017.
NOTE: Cannabis Retail Stores are not permitted to display vapour products.
“No Smoking” and “No Vaping” signs, or a dual “No Smoking and No Vaping” sign must be posted at all store entrances, exits, washrooms, in appropriate locations and sufficient numbers, so that employees and customers know that smoking and vaping is not permitted.
All stores selling tobacco products must post, in clear view of the customer at the point of sale:
- A Tobacco Age Restriction sign.
- A Tobacco Product Identification sign.
Vapour Product Retailers
All stores selling vapour products must post, in clear view of the customer at the point of sale:
- A Vapour Product Age Restriction sign.
- A Vapour Product Identification sign.
For information on where to get signs, please contact the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (625-5900).
Age-Based Sales Restrictions
Before selling tobacco or vapour products to anyone who appears to be less than 25 years old, a retailer must request identification and be satisfied that the person is at least 19 years old. Acceptable identification must include a photograph of the person, the person’s date of birth, and it must reasonably appear to have been issued by a government or the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Some examples are:
- Ontario driver’s license;
- Ontario photo card;
- Canadian passport;
- Canadian citizenship;
- Canadian Armed Forces identification card; and
- Liquor Control Board of Ontario photo card.
While retailers may not request an Ontario health card, it can be accepted as identification if it is offered by the customer and includes their picture and date of birth.
The SFOA, 2017 states that the business owner is liable for any violation of the Act’s sale, display or promotion restrictions committed in their business, unless the owner exercised due diligence to avoid a violation (e.g., properly trained employees on the requirements of the Act).
100% Vape and Smoke-Free
Business owners have a responsibility to ensure that the entire premises are smoke-free and vape-free at all times.
Thunder Bay District Health Units will carry out inspections and respond to complaints regarding retailers to enforce the SFOA, 2017.
There are several penalties that a retailer could face for violating the SFOA, 2017. Retailers are advised to review the Act to understand their responsibilities, and the fines that may result from failing to comply.
Tobacco Sales Offences
Certain activities prohibited under the Act are categorized as Tobacco Sales Offences. These include:
- Selling or supplying tobacco to someone under the age of 19;
- Failing to request identification from someone appearing to be less than 25;
- Failing to post the mandatory Tobacco Age Restriction identification and Tobacco Identification signs;
- Selling tobacco not packaged in accordance with the regulations;
- Selling tobacco in a vending machine;
- Some activities related to selling unmarked cigarettes under the Tobacco Tax Act.
If the Ministry of Health is notified that there are two or more owner convictions for tobacco sales offences committed in the same location within a five year period, even if the ownership changes, that location will be subject to an automatic prohibition. If that were to happen, that location could not sell or store any tobacco and no wholesaler or distributor could deliver tobacco to that location. An automatic prohibition lasts for six, nine or twelve months, depending on the number of convictions for tobacco sales offences that have taken place within the five year period.
Retailers are advised to review the SFOA, 2017 to understand more about this penalty.
This fact sheet is intended as a quick reference only and should not be considered to be legal advice. For more information, please contact the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. You may also obtain information by calling toll-free:
- INFOline 1-866-532-3161
- TTY 1-800-387-5559
Hours of operation: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
For specific information on SFOA, 2017 rules applicable to retailers contact the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
For more information on the SFOA, 2017, please visit the Ontario Ministry of Health website: ontario.ca/smokefree.