Flavored cigarettes, banned more than five years ago by the Food and Drug Administration, are still popular and available online, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine researchers found.
Researchers searched the internet and found that there were 291 percent more online searches for the company’s illegal flavored cigarettes than its replacement cigars. The latter are still legal.
To conduct the study, researchers monitored certain online search terms related to flavored cigarettes and cigars made by the company Djarum.
Among the first 50 search results for “Djarum cigarettes,” 72 percent of websites promoted and 34 percent sold the illegal cigarettes, according to the study.
“We weren’t surprised that the web is being used to circumvent tobacco regulations,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jon-Patrick Allem, a postdoctoral fellow with the university’s Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science, in a news release.
The study is among the first to examine the reactions of consumers and the tobacco industry to flavored cigarette bans, which are also in force in the European Union and other countries.
The researchers suggest beefed-up enforcement, fines and shutting down websites where possible, though tobacco vendor websites can be hosted outside of the country that has enacted a ban.
The paper, “When a ban really is not a ban: Internet loopholes and Djarum flavoured cigarettes in the USA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control. The research team included John Ayers, San Diego State University; Ben Althouse, The Santa Fe Institute; and Rebecca Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The research was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.