Age Restrictions Didn't Stop Teens from Buying E-Cigs

Electronic cigarette purchases could be made online by underage teens

(RxWiki News) Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, may be increasing in popularity among teens. And teens may not have much trouble buying e-cigs online, despite being underage.

A new study found that teens could easily buy e-cigs from online vendors due to the lack of effective age-verification measures.

Mark Millard, MD, medical director of the Baylor Martha Foster Lung Care Center in Dallas, told dailyRx News that parents can take steps to prevent their kids from using nicotine products underage.

"The best defense against any kind of drug-seeking behavior from your kids is a good example set by parents, and an open conversation about the temptations and hazards of both soft and hard drugs out there," Dr. Millard said. "Restricting internet access may work from home-based computers, but with cellphones and internet cafes in abundance, if someone really WANTS to order an e-cigarette, the likelihood is that it will happen."

Rebecca S. Williams, PhD, of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, led this study.

"Several studies have documented that teens can and do buy cigarettes online, easily bypassing the ineffective age-verification of Internet tobacco vendors," wrote Dr. Williams and colleagues. "No studies have yet examined youth access to e-cigarettes online."

E-cigs look like regular cigarettes, but they do not contain tobacco. Instead, they heat a nicotine solution to produce vapor the user inhales. Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco.

Dr. Williams and team enlisted 10 minors aged 14 to 17 for this study.

These teens attempted to buy e-cigs from 98 Internet vendors. Of the attempts made, 18 failed due to reasons unrelated to age.

Only five of the remaining 80 attempts were rejected due to age-verification.

These rejections occurred on websites that either required the buyer to enter a birthday and social security number or used an online age-verification service.

Only 45 percent of online e-cig vendors used strategies that could potentially block access to minors, Dr. Williams and team found. The majority of those required a buyer to enter only a birth date.

No websites required buyers to verify their age by driver's license number.

Dr. Williams and team found that all of the successful orders were shipped by companies that banned the shipping of cigarettes to consumers.

None of the vendors verified age at delivery, although five of the online vendors claimed that they would.

Dr. Williams and team found that seven of the vendors claimed to use age verification that complied with North Carolina law. Only 1 of those 7 purchases was rejected due to age verification.

The ease with which minors could purchase e-cigs online may pose a problem, Dr. Williams and team said.

"As with cigarettes, as youth access becomes more difficult locally, teens may move increasingly to buy e-cigarettes online," Dr. Williams and colleagues wrote. "E-cigarette vendors are unlikely to improve age-verification practices in the absence of carefully enforced regulations."

These researchers continued, "Federal law should require rigorous age verification for all e-cigarette sales similar to a federal policy ... that bans Internet cigarette sales to minors."

This study was published online March 2 in JAMA Pediatrics.

A grant from the National Cancer Institute funded this research. Study author Dr. Kurt M. Ribisl has served as an expert consultant in lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Review Date: 
February 27, 2015
Last Updated:
March 3, 2015