Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors via the Internet

E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular among teenagers, though sales of e-cigarettes to minors are banned in 41 U.S. states. Past studies have demonstrated that minors can and do buy cigarettes online, but until this study no research had assessed minors’ ability to buy e-cigarettes online.


Key Findings

Under adult supervision (and with parental consent), 11 teens aged 14 to 17 years attempted to buy e-cigarettes from 98 online vendors.

  • Only five out of 98 purchase attempts were rejected owing to age verification.
  • The overall success rate for youth purchases of e-cigarettes was 93.7%, after removing from the study sample 18 attempts that failed due to reasons unrelated to age verification.
  • No delivery company attempted to verify recipients’ ages at the point of delivery and 95% of e-cigarette deliveries were simply left at the door.
  • The vast majority of vendors failed to comply with North Carolina law, where the study was conducted. The state requires online vendors of tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) to use a third-party service to check the buyer’s age against a public records database.

This study offers insights to inform ongoing efforts to regulate e-cigarette sales to minors. No federal laws currently exist to regulate e-cigarette sales to minors. Although these sales are banned in many states, including North Carolina, the study results make it apparent that minors can easily purchase e-cigarettes online even where state age restrictions exist.

The study was cited in a letter by seven U.S. Senators urging federal action on electronic cigarettes and covered in more than 85 media outlets. (Learn more)

Citation: Williams RS, Derrick J, Ribisl KM. Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors via the InternetJAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(3):e1563. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.63.