Key Researchers

  • Internet cigarette vendors do a poor job of preventing cigarette sales to minors. Most Internet vendors will sell to underage youth without properly verifying their age.

    Age verification procedures employed by most Internet cigarette vendors do not adequately prevent minors from purchasing cigarettes online. For most youth, locating an ICV website would be as easy as turning on a computer. Jensen et al found that 96.7% of minors aged 15 to 16 were able to find an Internet cigarette vendor and place an order in less than 25 minutes, with most completing the order in seven minutes (Jensen, 2004). While 83 percent of vendors include minimum age warnings on their home pages, only 26 percent feature them at the top of the page where they can be viewed without scrolling, the prevailing standard for Web design (Ribisl, 2007). Therefore, many of these age warnings are likely missed by the users.

    Furthermore, there is no standard method of online age verification. Internet cigarette vendors most commonly use lax self-age verification methods. One study found 48.9 percent of Internet vendors asked users to confirm they were of legal age by merely checking a box or submitting their order, 14.8 percent asked customers to type in a birth date. In contrast, only 6.8 percent claimed to use more rigorous age verification methods, such as requiring submission of a photo ID at delivery (Ribisl, 2007). Some policy makers and vendors think that youth buying cigarettes online is not a major concern because youth generally don’t have access to credit cards for online purchases. However, in today’s online age, far more youth than ever before have access to credit cards and credit-card-like payment methods for online purchases. In addition to those youth whose parents allow them to use the parent’s credit card for online purchases or have their credit card company issue cards with the youth’s name on it, many youth have access to debit cards and/or prepaid debit cards such as VisaBuxx, intended for use by teens. The 2002 National Consumers League Teens and Financial Education survey found that 8% of teens have debit cards, and 20% have checking accounts (and could therefore get a debit card if desired) (National Consumers League, 2003). Nevertheless, we should note that given the recent Attorneys General agreement described earlier prohibits credit cards from being used to pay for cigarettes from Internet cigarette vendors.

    There is clear evidence from several studies that most Internet cigarette vendors will sell to buyers without verifying their age. In a 2001 purchase survey (Ribisl, 2003), youth ages 11-15 were successful in 76 of 83 attempts to purchase cigarettes from 55 Internet vendors in 12 states (that is a 92 percent overall success rate). A 2002 purchase survey found that college students were able to buy cigarettes from 20 of 32 (71 percent) Internet vendors without providing proof of age (Bryant, 2002). In a 2004 study, 29 of 30 youth ages 15-16 (97 percent) were able to find an Internet cigarette vendor and place an order on their own in under 20 minutes, and 23 of the youth (77 percent) successfully received their orders, with 91 percent of the packages delivered without requests for proof of age (Jensen, 2004). Most recently, a purchase survey assessing compliance with California’s law designed to prevent youth access to cigarettes from Internet vendors, found that none of the 101 vendors in the sample verified the age of the buyer in accordance with California’s law (Williams, 2006).



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