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.
Results: Minors successfully received deliveries of e-cigarettes from 76.5% of purchase attempts, with no attempts by delivery companies to verify their ages at delivery and 95% of delivered orders simply left at the door. All delivered packages came from shipping companies that, according to company policy or federal regulation, do not ship cigarettes to consumers. Of the total orders, 18 failed for reasons unrelated to age verification. Only 5 of the remaining 80 youth purchase attempts were rejected owing to age verification, resulting in a youth buy rate of 93.7%. None of the vendors complied with North Carolina's e-cigarette age-verification law.
Conclusions and relevance: Minors are easily able to purchase e-cigarettes from the Internet because of an absence of age-verification measures used by Internet e-cigarette vendors. Federal law should require and enforce rigorous age verification for all e-cigarette sales as with the federal PACT (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking) Act's requirements for age verification in Internet cigarette sales.