A report has recently been released in the Tobacco Control journal highlighting that the number of online e-cig vendors has dramatically increased over the last few years, causing concern among researchers at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The study reveals that the year 2014 saw over 3000 online vendors of e-cigarettes, whereas just one year earlier there were under 1000. By 2018, these figures are likely to be substantially higher, and while the numbers of vendors in themselves may not be a cause for concern, the fact that some of the online retailers are selling low cost products without any age restrictions, thus enabling minors to access them easily, is a lot more worrying. Add to that the availability of sweet flavours which are likely to appeal to young people, and the problems begin to mount up.
Marketing and Age Verification Problems
Earlier in the year, researchers at the same organisation published a further study which revealed problems with the delivery, shipping and age verification processes which were being employed by certain online e-cig vendors. Over half of the companies involved were making health claims about the e-cigs that they were selling, while customer testimonials were often being cleverly portrayed in the style of marketing copy. With prices for disposable e-cigs coming in at as little as just $1 each from some of these e-commerce companies, it’s easy to see why they could prove appealing to youths, and while these devices may be affordable, there was no guarantee as to their quality or even safety. When it comes to age verification, the methods being employed by some of these vendors are also sub-standard, being unable to block access by underage buyers effectively. Only 8.1% of retailers claimed to ask for verification of age when products were delivered and very few requested ID when buying online.
Regulation Of Online E-Cig Sales
Although last year saw the US FDA finalising a rule which extending its authority to the regulation of tobacco products and e-cigarettes, it still has a very limited remit over internet sales of these products. Researchers are now calling for rigorous procedures to be put in place for verifying the age of online e-cig buyers both at the point of sale and the point of delivery, together with restrictions on deliveries and payments.
Although most experts have now agreed that using e-cigarettes is considerably safer than smoking tobacco and that they can be an extremely effective aid to stopping smoking thanks to the numerous studies which are now in the public forum proving their benefits, public health bodies are still concerned that regulations should be put in place to ensure that underage buyers are unable to access vaping products. Researchers have now suggested that the data which has been compiled in this latest study with regard to the marketing and sales of e-cigarette products online be analysed by the FDA and then used to inform future regulations of vaping equipment sales.