Underage youth were able to purchase nicotine e-cigarette liquids from all but four of 120 sampled internet vendors in 2015, according to this new study from the University of California, Irvine and the University of North Carolina. As with cigarettes, nearly all states prohibit e-cigarette and e-liquid purchases by minors (here and here).
Authors Dmitriy Nikitin and David Timberlake of UCI and Rebecca Williams from UNC identified 1,128 vendors and selected 120 for purchase attempts by 16- and 17-year-olds. Online, the students provided birthdates corresponding to adults age 20+ years. They used debit cards and provided photo IDs or driver’s licenses when requested; no false identification was used. Parents gave consent and took delivery of liquids.
Ethical review was conducted by the UCI Institutional Review Board, and the investigators were granted immunity from criminal prosecution by UCI and Irvine police departments, as well as the Orange County district attorney.
The students successfully purchased nicotine e-liquids from 116 out of 120 vendors, including members of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association and the American E-liquid Manufacturing Standards Association, both of which promote adult-only sales policies.
Nikitin and colleagues received 120 purchased bottles and an additional 63 promotional bottles. Overall, 88% of the purchased bottles and 82% of the promotional bottles had child-resistant packaging. Further: “15 of the orders arrived with promotional materials including playing cards, Mike and Ike candy, Laffy Taffy candy, Sweet Tarts candy, bracelets, B’loonies Plastic Balloons, and a collection of branded stickers.”
Research suggests that youth access to e-cigarettes may reduce youth cigarette smoking (here and here). E-cigarette vendors can pursue liberalization of state sales laws, but their present course of illegal underage sales, as evidenced by the Nikitin study, invites heightened industry regulation by the states and the FDA.