Report: Teens Buy E-Cigarettes Online With Little Difficulty Despite Industry Safeguards

ecigBack in February 2014, Ohio became the first state to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Since then, 40 other states and cities have followed suit. Despite those regulations, a new study found it’s increasingly easy for teens to skirt the rules by purchasing the products online.

USA Today reports that a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found teens had little trouble purchasing e-cigarettes through online retailers across the country.

The study, which included 11 teens ages 14 to 17, found that participants were able to buy the products in 94% of attempts.

In all, only five of the 98 purchases were rejected based on consumers age. Those attempts were blocked because of parental control settings on the computer.

When the packages were delivered, none of the teens were asked to shows proof of age. In 95% of the cases, the study reports, the packages were simply left on the doorstep.

According to the study, seven of the 98 online e-cigarette retailers claimed to use age verification techniques capable of complying with North Carolina law, which requires online retailers to verify e-cigarette customer’s ages with a government records database.

However, researchers say the teens were able to place orders at six of those websites, showing that the retailer’s age verification doesn’t sufficiently work.

E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular in recent years, while the Food & Drug Administration has been slow to implement federal regulations.

The FDA’s proposed regulations include a ban on selling the products to minors, but those rules have yet to be finalized. Additionally, the proposed rules do not take intent sells into consideration, researchers say.

Harold Farber, a pediatric pulmonologist, tells USA Today that the study’s findings aren’t shocking.

“Ninety percent of adult smokers start before age 18,” Farber says. “The industry knows very well that in order to get their next generation of customers, they need to get them before they become adults. We’re seeing the e-cig industry follow the tobacco industry’s playbook.”

Still, representatives with e-cigarette industry group, Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, say retailers take protecting children seriously.

“We certainly don’t want teenagers to have access to them,” Phil Daman, president of industry group, tells USA Today. “If people aren’t using age verification software, if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, there’s no excuse for it,”

Teens can easily buy e-cigarettes online, study says [USA Today]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.