A handful of public health advocates are pushing for online ecig sales to be banned after reports surfaced that teens were buying ecigs online without any problems. According to UNC Chapel Hill’s Rebecca Williams, around a million teens bought ecigs, cigars, and smokeless tobacco online in 2012. Williams reported that even with on site age verification gateways, teens could easily buy electronic cigarette devices on the Internet and have them delivered with no questions asked.
To get a better look at the situation, Williams and her research team recruited 11 teens to make purchases from around 100 ecig retailers online. The teens were instructed to buy cheap starter kits and disposable ecigs and the results were really discouraging. Teens were successful in their attempts to buy ecigs online 93 percent of the time. In 95 percent of cases, deliveries were left at the door and no age verification was requested.
“We tracked whether e-cigarette sellers provided age verification at delivery, a service offered by UPS, DHL, and FedEx, but not by the US Postal Service,” Williams said. “When available, buyers chose USPS to assess the proportion of vendors shipping e-cigarettes without the possibility of age verification at delivery.”
While experts are concerned that online availability of ecigs is a major problem, the truth is that a teenager with a credit card can buy a lot of contraband online with few problems. From guns to ammunition to cars and alcohol, you can buy practically anything on the Internet with a valid credit card. So the real issue here isn’t electronic cigarettes, but age verification protocols.
In the past, we’ve even seen a toddler buy a car on eBay. Back when cigarettes could be purchased online, officials did nothing to control age verification because they said very few teens would buy them online. In reality, most kids will get cigarettes and ecigs from friends or buy visiting local convenience stores where no one bothers to check ID’s.
Do you think we should be concerned about teens buying ecigs online? Or is age verification the bigger problem that deserves attention from officials?