Very Easy For Minors To Purchase E-Cigarettes Online

Rebecca S. Williams, MHS, PhD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, Interview with:
Rebecca S. Williams, MHS, PhD

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? 

Dr. Williams: In recent years, the e-cigarette industry has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar market, with at least 466 brands and 7764 unique flavors of e-cigarettes sold online. With both smokers and people who never smoked turning to e-cigarettes, there are concerns about their safety, lack of regulation and accessibility to teens. The CDC reported that 17% of high school seniors use e-cigarettes, more than twice as many as use traditional cigarettes; furthermore, that hundreds of thousands of youth annually are using e-cigarettes who never smoked cigarettes.

Our previous studies of Internet cigarette sales indicated that Internet Tobacco Vendors did a poor job of preventing sales to minors, which helped inform development of state and federal regulations to regulate such sales.  In 2013, North Carolina passed a law requiring age verification for online e-cigarette sales. This study was the first study to examine age verification used by Internet e-cigarette vendors and the first to assess compliance with North Carolina’s e-cigarette age verification law.

MedicalResearch: What are the main findings?

Dr. Williams: It was very easy for minors to buy e-cigarettes online. It took little effort for them to bypass the age verification practices of the vendors because there was very little use of rigorous age verification.  With only 5 orders rejected by vendors due to age verification, there was a youth e-cigarette purchase success rate of 94.7%.  No vendors used age verification at delivery, and few used rigorous methods of age verification that could potentially block youth access. While 7 vendors claimed to use age verification techniques that could potentially comply with North Carolina’s law, only one actually did.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Williams: Clinicians and parents should be aware that lots of teens are using e-cigarettes, a product that carries with it nicotine addiction and potentially many other health hazards, and that they can easily obtain them online with little effort. It is important to talk with teens about the potential dangers of e-cigarettes and take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will try to obtain or use them. It is also important to support strict regulation of the content, marketing, and sale of e-cigarettes, particularly as it pertains to vulnerable minors.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Williams: We urge the federal government to quickly issue regulations prohibiting e-cigarette sales to minors and requiring rigorous age verification at the points of order and delivery for online sales. Our team currently has further research under way examining the popularity, sales, and marketing practices of internet e-cigarette vendors and manufacturers in more detail and from more angles. You can find more information and updates about our work at

Citation: Interview with:Rebecca S. Williams, MHS, PhD (2015). Very Easy For Minors To Purchase E-Cigarettes Online 

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Last Updated on March 3, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD