Minors can easily purchase e-cigarettes on the Internet

Another quick study from JAMA Pediatrics, “Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors via the Internet“:

Importance  Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) entered the US market in 2007 and, with little regulatory oversight, grew into a $2-billion-a-year industry by 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a trend of increasing e-cigarette use among teens, with use rates doubling from 2011 to 2012. While several studies have documented that teens can and do buy cigarettes online, to our knowledge, no studies have yet examined age verification among Internet tobacco vendors selling e-cigarettes.

Objective  To estimate the extent to which minors can successfully purchase e-cigarettes online and assess compliance with North Carolina’s 2013 e-cigarette age-verification law.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this cross-sectional study conducted from February 2014 to June 2014, 11 nonsmoking minors aged 14 to 17 years made supervised e-cigarette purchase attempts from 98 Internet e-cigarette vendors. Purchase attempts were made at the University of North Carolina Internet Tobacco Vendors Study project offices using credit cards.

Main Outcome and Measure  Rate at which minors can successfully purchase e-cigarettes on the Internet.

I’m not going to waste your time with a review of the literature on e-cigarettes. There’s a Healthcare Triage for that. But the biggest ongoing issue is the relative lack of regulation. North Carolina passed a law in 2013 that mandated that Internet e-cigarette vendors confirm a customer’s age through a government records database when an order is placed. How’s that working out?

Researchers got some 14-17 year olds together and watched them place orders on 98 of the 103 most popular online Internet e-cigarette vendors. The minors were able to successfully get deliveries of e-cigarettes from more than 75% of them. No attempts were made to check their ages. Pretty much all of the deliveries were left at the door, so no age verification was made on delivery either.

But it gets worse. Eighteen orders failed, but for reasons unrelated to age verification (like the website broke or processing failed because of some site issue). Of the remaining 80 orders that could go through, only 5 were rejected because of some sort of age verification. This means that at functioning websites, minors were easily able to purchase e-cigarettes online about 94% of the time.

This is the kind of stuff that’s giving e-cigarettes a bad name. It’s the kind of stuff that even proponents of e-cigarettes could work to fix, if they seriously believe in their harm reduction potential, and not just their being a new and easier way for many (including kids) to get their hands on nicotine products.


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