Study Finds Youth Can Easily Buy E-cigarettes Over the Internet

While more than 40 states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that online e-cigarette vendors often fail to verify a customer’s age before selling them the controversial products.

Rebecca S. Williams of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues wanted to know how frequently online vendors complied with North Carolina's age-verification law.

The authors recruited a handful of non-smoking minors to make e-cigarette purchases online with a credit card. The minors made their purchase attempts from computers at the project's offices.

A total of 98 internet e-cigarette vendors were targeted by the study. The minors successfully ordered e-cigarettes from 75 of these vendors and of the unsuccessful orders, only five failed due to age verification. According to the authors, this meant that 94 percent of the e-cigarette vendors investigated failed to correctly verify their customers' ages.

In addition to this finding, the e-cigarette packages were delivered by shipping companies that all failed to verify the ages of the purchasers upon delivery, with 95 percent of orders just left at the door. (All of the shipping companies concerned do not ship regular cigarettes to consumers, according to company policy and federal regulation.)

None of the online e-cigarette vendors complied with North Carolina's e-cigarette age-verification law.

In the news release, the authors recommend that "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.”

Sales of e-cigarettes have been constantly on the rise since they first entered the US market in 2007. By 2013, it had become a $2 billion-a-year industry and analysts predict sales could reach $10 billion-a-year by 2017.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of e-cigarette use among teenagers are also increasing rapidly, doubling from 2011 to 2012. The CDC report that in 2013, more than a quarter of a million high school students had never smoked conventional cigarettes but had used e-cigarettes.