By March 7, 2016 Read More →

“Light” and Flavored Tobacco Available Online Despite Bans


In an effort to curb misleading advertising and discourage smoking among young people, the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act created new restrictions on cigarette manufacturing and marketing. This study, which assessed compliance with these restrictions among Internet-based tobacco vendors, found high rates of noncompliance, particularly among vendors based outside the United States.

Under the Act, companies are prohibited from selling cigarettes with artificial flavors, such as strawberry and grape, with the exception of menthol. The Act also prohibits companies from using misleading descriptors, such as “light” or “low” that imply reduced health risks without submitting scientific data to support the claim and obtaining a marketing authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For the study, researchers analyzed the 200 most popular Internet tobacco vendors in 2009, 2010, and 2011 to assess products offered, the language used in marketing descriptions, and changes over time.


Key Findings

  • The sale of cigarettes with banned flavors and the use of misleading descriptors decreased between 2009 (when the law went into effect) and 2011.
  • However, 89% of vendors continued to sell banned products, including 95.8% of international vendors.
  • Following the ban on flavored cigarettes, more vendors began selling potential alternative products, such as flavored little cigars and clove cigars.

The study offers evidence that online tobacco vendors frequently fail to comply with bans on flavored cigarettes and misleading descriptions under U.S. law. This noncompliance is especially high among vendors based internationally, suggesting better enforcement of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is needed.

Citation: Jo CL, Williams RS, Ribisl KM. Tobacco products sold by Internet vendors following restrictions on flavors and light descriptors. Nicotine Tob Res. 2015 Mar;17(3)344-9. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu167.

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