By August 12, 2016 Read More →

Despite Regulation, Minors Can Still Buy Cigarettes Online

In a new study, online vendors shipped cigarettes to minors via the U.S. Postal Service. Many also advertised products banned in the United States.

Many regulations seek to curtail youth access to cigarettes and discourage tobacco vendors from marketing their products to minors. These include federal age verification requirements, shipping regulations, and bans on certain types of cigarettes that appeal to youth, including those advertised as “light” and cigarettes with flavors other than menthol.

This study assesses sales practices of online cigarette vendors for insights on the impacts of these rules. In 2014, 10 minors aged 14–17 attempted to purchase cigarettes from 68 popular internet vendors.


Key Findings

  • Minors received cigarettes from 32.4% of purchase attempts. Of those attempts that failed, all were due to payment processing problems and none were due to age/ID verification.
  • All products were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service from overseas sellers. More than 63% of delivered orders were left at the door and the rest were handed directly to minors with no age verification.
  • More than 70% of vendors advertised ‘light’ cigarettes and more than 60% advertised flavored cigarettes.
  • Credit cards used in the study were exposed to an estimated $7,000 worth of fraudulent charges.

This study confirms that minors in the United States can still purchase cigarettes online despite years of regulation restricting internet cigarette sales, suggesting both a lack of vendor compliance and a lack of enforcement of existing U.S. regulations. It also adds to the evidence that the internet cigarette marketplace has shifted overseas, and reveals that buyers seeking to buy cigarettes online are exposed to widespread credit card fraud.

These findings suggest federal agencies should rigorously enforce existing internet cigarette sales laws to prevent illegal shipments from reaching U.S. consumers, shut down non-compliant and fraudulent websites, and stop the theft and fraudulent use of credit card information provided online.

This paper was highlighted in a Q&A with ITV Principal Investigator Rebecca Williams.


Citation: Williams RS, Derrick J, Phillips KJ. Cigarette sales to minors via the internet: how the story has changed in the wake of federal regulation. [Epub ahead of print] July 13, 2016. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052844.


Comments are closed.