Introduction: Most Internet cigarette sales have violated taxation and youth access laws, leading to landmark 2005 agreements with credit card companies, PayPal, and private shippers (United Parcel Service, Federal Express, DHL) to cease participation in these transactions. Despite their promise at the time, loopholes allowed for check payment and U.S. Postal Service (USPS) shipping. This study assessed actual vendor compliance with the payment and shipping bans using a purchase survey.
Methods: In late 2007 and early 2008, an adult buyer attempted to order cigarettes from the 97 most popular Internet cigarette vendors (ICVs) using banned payment and shipping methods. When banned payment or shipping methods were unavailable, purchases were attempted with alternate methods (e.g., checks, e-checks, USPS).
Results: Twenty-seven of 100 orders were placed with (banned) credit cards; 23 were successfully received. Seventy-one orders were placed with checks (60 successfully received). Four orders were delivered using banned shippers; 79 of 83 successfully received orders were delivered by the USPS.
Conclusions: About a quarter of ICVs violated the payment ban, others adapted by accepting checks. Most vendors complied with the shipping ban, perhaps because USPS was an easy substitute shipping option. Better enforcement of the bans is needed; the 2009 Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act closed the USPS loophole by making cigarettes nonmailable material; evaluation of enforcement efforts and adaptations by vendors are needed. These sorts of bans are a promising approach to controlling the sale of restricted goods online.