Finally!… many will say.
The first ever complete and affordable solution to avoid fines for tobacco sale to minors is being launched today by DepQuébec to alleviate the regulatory burden for retailers as well as mitigate the risks associated with the sale of tobacco and other 18+ products.
It is a tough ruling from the Quebec Superior Court unveiled shortly before the Holidays that spark this idea. It is indeed high time to rethink the current practices of “due diligence”, the legal term commonly used to describe everything that retailers must do to prevent the sale of tobacco to minors.
Well now, it’s done!
“The fear of being prosecuted and sentenced is a huge stress for retailers in Quebec,” said Guy Leroux, Editor of DepQuebec and creator of Prodep Diligence. “Knowing that we have the highest fines in the world and that about one out of every 10 c-stores owners are caught each year, there is a clear need to do more to support retailers,” said Leroux who has been acting as a lobbyist on behalf of the c-store industry for a dozen years and who became expert in Quebec regulation of proximity retailing.
However, as provided for by the Quebec Tobacco Act in section 14, “no penalty may be imposed on a defendant who shows that a reasonable effort was made to verify the age of the person”.
Delivering a high quality “reasonable effort” and, above all, being able to prove it to a court of justice is the only possible way to operate a business nowadays with some peace of mind and some confidence to keep hefty fines and tobacco sale bans at bay.
And because necessity is the mother of all inventions, Prodep Diligence offers an innovative approach to deliver a superior level of due diligence that goes much further in meeting court expectations and provide convincing evidence while easing the burden and simplifying the life of retailers.
Sentenced against all odds
On December 10, 2018, the Super Dépanneur Lac St-Charles Service Esso was fined $3,890 by the Quebec Superior Court for selling tobacco to a minor who turned out to be a government inspector (see the decision here).
This is a final call. The depanneur was appealing a guilty verdict made a few months earlier, on May 23, 2018, for an offense dated June 29, 2016.
Here, the owner Chantale Blanchette lost her court case despite having followed the industry’s most common standards for preventing sales to minors (internal policy, guidelines endorsed by employees, 20-hour training, etc.).
And if that was not enough, Ms. Blanchette was doing even more than demanded, as the court decision recognizes:
“Every day, when arriving at work, store clerks sign a paper commiting themselves to check ID of every customer appearing to be 25 years old or younger (…) and acknowledging that they will be automatically laid-off without notice should they fail to do so”. – Judge Louis Dionne, Dépanneur Lac St-Charles decision
Thus, every single day, Mrs. Blanchette took on her to ask all employees to sign such reminder. And she was found guilty despite all that!
The lesson to be learned is clear: blind or excessive measures — such as requiring employees to sign something every day — are no longer an assurance against the threat of hefty fines.
Instead, retailers must aim to do better. And doing better requires having access to better planning and management tools and using a comprehensive and integrated approach that has never been offered or made available to retailers until now.
This is where the new Prodep Diligence solution comes in to fill this large void at an affordable price.
A higher bar for retailers
While c-stores owners will always be at risk — whatever they do — through their employees when it comes to tobacco sale, they still remain in total control of their due diligence process.
And as highlighted several times by Judge Dionne in his decision, the “due diligence requirement is more demanding in a regulated environment”.
“The Supreme Court, in the Wholesale decision, points out that the due diligence review is more demanding within a regulated environment. (…) The appellant chose to operate a convenience store in which there is a sale of tobacco products, which is a regulated environment.” – Dionne decision
In other words, the bar is higher for depanneurs when it comes to due diligence, especially as the government is openly trying to curb the use of tobacco.
“The sale of tobacco products is an activity that requires specific knowledge and skills that must be verified regularly, considering the intention of the legislator to intensify its fight against smoking.” – Dionne decision
What the Superior Court has just basically stated is that enough is enough. The era of scattered and improvised measures, providing a false sense of security, is a thing of the past.
In the wake of this recent decision, savvy and forward-thinking retailers will naturally want to improve their due diligence delivery by a few notches. This higher level of evolved and integrated diligence means that all the components are no longer assembled roughly like puzzle pieces, but managed in a coherent and complete whole.
Prodep Diligence‘s integrated approach allows not only to do more to gather evidence, but also to reduce the heavy burden of managing the whole process of due diligence that rests on the owners’ shoulders.
By acting more like an orchestra conductor rather than a jack of all trades, retailers come out better protected and less overwhelmed, which is the best of both worlds.
Maximum for the minimum
Prodep Diligence comes as a sturdy, practical and zippered or velcro binder organizer (depending on the format) that includes both a section with rings and one with folders (see article top photo).
The ring section is used to keep all documents, evidence and forms to be eventually produced in a court of justice in the event of an offense. No more risk, then, of losing any paper. The folder section is used to keep documents such as manuals, signs and certificates that should not be perforated.
Quite comprehensive, the regular kit for 10 store clerks includes 56 practical tools, i.e. manuals, exams, checklists, signs and various forms covering all aspects of carding including the Prodep official 60-page four-color training manual, available in three copies.
The regular kit includes 10 exercises and exams to be completed by employees, 10 employee folders to fill out (20 for the large format), 21 various forms and two new innovative tools that transform the current ways of doing things:
- the annual planner in which the manager records all due diligence activities done in the year to keep track of what is being done by the retailer;
- the employee progress chart, the first ever tool to visualize the evolution of carding skills among employees and identify opportunities for reinforcement to better target surveillance and control activities.
With Prodep, retailers can finally see clearly. The data obtained provide all the control they need and the necessary vital evidence demonstrating their total mastery of due diligence for each employee selling 18+ products.
Emphasis on checklists
In addition, Prodep Diligence makes life easier for retailers by using checklists, whether to manage due diligence, validate the store’s regulatory compliance or in case of an inspection, offense or other.
They are also preferred for employee exercises and exams because they remain user-friendly even in a noisy or hectic environment such as a convenience store.
The result is a comprehensive kit of near than 600 pages (1200 pages for the large format for up to 20 employees) divided into convenient sections and also including signs and even a USB key to collect photographic evidence.
Designed for depanneurs with the help of depanneurs
Created in collaboration with a core group of retailers, Prodep Diligence took into account their needs and preferences in its design.
Dominic Goulet, owner of La Calvette in Landrienne, Abitibi, has just got into trouble with the Health Department (MSSS) mystery inspections. Awaiting for a decision that could see him sentenced for a first offense, he is desperately looking for a long-term solution to protect the sustainability of his business.
“I can’t afford ending up in fear of a second offense that could lead to a tobacco sale ban,” said he. “I can do without the stress, costs and years of anxiety such predicament entails. And I don’t want to lose the freedom to sell my business to the best possible conditions at the moment of my choosing,” said Goulet who employs 17 people. Its call for help, at the beginning of the year, accelerated efforts to finalize the current Prodep solution and he even accepted from the outset to participate in its development.
A necessary and profitable investment
An offense and lost court case can be quite expensive. Owner of the Super Dépanneur Lac St-Charles, Ms. Blanchette can confirm. She candidly admits to having spent nearly $20,000 in various expenses to defend herself, to no avail. It’s indeed a lot of money spent for the sale of a single pack of cigarettes!
Under such conditions, Prodep Diligence proves to be a savvy investment that is as necessary and relevant as it is affordable:
- to better prevent the sale of tobacco or any other adult product to minors;
- to maximize the likelyhood of an acquittal should an offense occur;
- to alleviate the due diligence management efforts while doing more and better;
- and as a bonus, to eliminate the ugly stress associated with all this complex regulatory management that has nothing to do with the core skills of a good retailer and that most often undermine their lives.
Its cost is quite affordable. It amounts to only 10% of the amount of the minimum fine (including fees) of $3,750 for the sale of tobacco to a minor, remembering that about 10% of depanneurs are caught each year as a result of the 5,000 mystery inspections conducted by the government.
And this is an investment to be made only once!
In addition to the kit, Prodep Diligence comes with a “Diligent Retailer” package. Sold at $150 per year, it is offered to kit buyers free of charge for the first nine months after the date of purchase and includes the following benefits:
- support for the implementation of the Prodep system and personalized due diligence advices by phone or email;
- Prodep forms updates sent by email that retailers can print and add to the binder (excluding employee training manual);
- a brand new free employee test sent by e-mail every month to diversify employee controls and evaluations and which retailer can print, have them filled in by employees and insert in the binder as additional evidence;
- free and exclusive subscription by e-mail to the quarterly newsletter Le Diligent (in French and English) sharing due diligence best practices accross Quebec retailer.
This is therefore an all-inclusive, turnkey solution, for which the retailer is not left on his own but supported with no additional charge for a period of nine months from the date of purchase, a service that can be extended thereafter by subscribing to the annual fee.
Prodep Diligence is on sale as of today on the DepQuebec store (click HERE).