Introduction: Cigar sales have nearly doubled as cigarette sales have dropped, and large cigars have been replaced by little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs). Many LCCs are flavored, are perceived as less harmful than cigarettes, and have become increasingly available from e-commerce sources. We conducted surveillance of the online retail environment in 2013 and 2014 for LCCs in order to describe characteristics of Internet tobacco vendors selling LCCs and their sales and marketing practices, youth access practices, and their practices in relation to cigarette and other tobacco product sales.
Methods: In 2013, we identified and manually screened 32,446 websites, yielding 500 unique Internet LCC vendors. In 2014, we identified 511 vendors selling LCCs from a list of 31,239 manually screened websites. We then selected 249 in 2013 and 263 in 2014 for content analysis focusing on six domains including demographics, youth access, payment and delivery, products for sale, promotions and claims, and prices.
Results: Just over half of vendors in both years were located solely in the U.S. with 70.1% of those selling flavored LCCs in 2013 and 76.1% in 2014. Nearly half only used proven ineffective age verification strategies and another 10% made no attempts to verify age at all. Most vendors accepted credit cards and advertised using the United States Postal Service. Half of vendors featured a variety of health warnings and most featured promotions.
Conclusions: Federal bans on flavored cigarettes and restrictions on age verification, payment, and shipping for Internet tobacco sales should be extended to include LCCs.
Keywords: Cigars; Internet; Tobacco; Tobacco Industry; Tobacco Products.
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