California Moves to Ban Online Tobacco and E-Cig Sales, But Why?

From time to time, we see debates break out over whether e-cigs should be available online. Right now, that’s a hot topic in California where Assemblyman Roger Dickinson is working hard to stop online sales of both tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Dickinson is pushing for a new bill to eliminate online sales under the guise of protecting children from easy access to tobacco products, but is that really the reasons for the new bill?

Dickinson told the press that the availability of cigarettes and e-cigs on the Internet were a major problem for children and teens. “Internet sales of tobacco products, we know, pose a serious threat to the health and safety of children because there’s literally no verification of age when products of tobacco are purchased through the Internet,” he said.

No one is going to argue that kids should have access to e-cigs, but Dickinson’s real reason for the ban might be something entirely different. After doing a little research, we found that the California would gain $24 million in tax revenue by eliminating online tobacco sales that allow consumers to bypass local taxes. Could the increased revenue be the main reason for this new bill?

Additionally, lumping e-cigs into the ban is ridiculous. Electronic cigarettes are not tobacco products, so why include them in a tobacco ban? Right now, e-cigs are an easy target because there is already a lot of controversy surrounding teens and e-cigs. So if the bill can give the appearance of stopping teen access to electronic cigarettes, it just gives it more momentum for a positive response.

If the bill is really to protect today’s young people, it looks like the ban would be more focused on brick and mortar establishments. The majority of teens buy their cigarettes in local convenience stores or steal them from a parent. The legislative crackdown would need to be aimed at these sources rather the Internet if California wanted to be truly effective at cutting teen smoking.

Buying e-cigs online is actually going to be difficult for most teens. The vast majority of websites require a credit card to place an order online and you cannot even have a credit card without a co-signer until you are 18 years old, which is also the legal age to buy tobacco products. For teens that do have credit and debit cards, their guardians are most likely linked to the accounts and should have easy access to purchase records. Unless parents are simply not paying attention, a teen would have some explaining to do when e-cig charges show up on the next credit card statement.

Based on a 2002 study, we know that very few teens buy tobacco products online. In fact, on 1.4% of high school students reported buying their last pack of cigarettes on the Internet. With smokers vastly outnumbering those using e-cigs, it stands to reason that only a tiny percentage of teens have ever bought an e-cig online.

Once you look at the facts, it seems clear that Assemblyman Dickinson might have motives beyond protecting California’s children. That extra $24 million in tax revenue would be a pretty sweet addition to California’s budget and if takes a “Protect the Kids” speech to make it happen, well then… I guess that’s just politics.

What do you think the real motive is for the ban on Internet sales? Is this really all about protecting kids?

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Author Focus: David Fitchburg
David is a 5 year vet of the e-cig scene. He started smoking in his late teens, his habit got pretty bad and the birth of his daughter really made him think that he should consider quitting tobacco. He tried everything with little success. Then in 2008 he discovered e-cigarettes, started vaping and has never looked back. Read Full Profile >