The numbers are staggering. Just six years after entering the U.S., electronic cigarettes have become a $2 billion industry and is expected to grow to $10 billion by 2017. Also rapidly growing is the number of teens using e-cigs.
Technically, e-cigarettes are not supposed to be sold to minors in most states. But recent studies have the number of teens using e-cigs up to 263,000. Last year, 17 percent of U.S. 12th graders used e-cigarettes — twice the amount of those who smoked traditional cigarettes.
How do so many kids get them? It’s really not too difficult.
While federal law prohibits the sale of traditional cigarettes to minors, the government has not entirely caught up with the electronic cigarette craze. The FDA has plans to regulate e-cigs, but full implementation may take a while. And even though 41 states have laws prohibiting sales of e-cigs to minors, it’s really hard to monitor who buys what online.
“Minors are easily able to purchase e-cigarettes from the Internet because of an absence of age-verification measures used by Internet e-cigarette vendors,” said study authors led by Rebecca S. Williams, MHS, PhD, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina.
The UNC research team set up a sting operation to determine whether 10 minors would be able to successfully purchase and receive electronic cigarettes through online sales.
Out of 98 total attempts, only five were rejected due to age verification software that checked social security numbers, date of births, etc. Another 18 attempts failed because the websites were junk. If you remove the bad websites, 75 out of 80 attempts by minors to purchase electronic cigarettes were successful. That’s a success (or, failure) rate of 94 percent.
Once the orders go through, it’s practically guaranteed to reach the delivery location. While several services claim to do age verification at delivery, none of them did in this study.
“Federal law should require rigorous age verification for all e-cigarette sales similar to a federal policy under the PACT (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking) Act that bans Internet cigarette sales to minors,” said the authors of the study appearing in JAMA: Pediatrics. “Most vendors continue to fail to even attempt to verify age in accordance with the law, underscoring the need for careful enforcement.”
Photo by Jonny Williams via Flickr.