NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Internet Sales of Cigarettes to Minors

October 20, 2003

After a decade of studies on tobacco sales to minors at retail outlets and the enforcement of adolescent access laws, there is growing concern that the Internet might become a source of tobacco products for minors. Minors appear to have easy access to tobacco via the Internet because most vendors do not have adequate age verification methods according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Kurt Ribisl and colleagues identified 55 Internet vendors located in 12 states and under adult supervision, 4 adolescents aged 11 to 15 years attempted to purchase cigarettes using either money orders or credit cards. The researchers found:

  • Minors were able to successfully receive cigarettes for 93.6 percent of credit card purchase attempts and for 88.9 percent of money order purchase attempts.
  • Although 8 vendors for the money order purchases and 1 vendor for the credit card purchases stated on their Web site that buyers must mail or fax a copy of their photo ID; only 8.3 percent of the money order purchases and 2.1 percent of credit card purchases were refused because the buyer did not provide proof of age.
  • The age of the recipient was never verified in any of the successful deliveries.

The researchers indicate that new methods of verifying the age of consumers need to be identified and tested for effective prevention of online tobacco sales to minors. And as has been the case in retail outlets, programs will be needed to educate Internet cigarette vendors about state laws related to sales to minors. But they conclude that federal legislation banning Internet and mail order tobacco sales to minors may be the most effective policy strategy.

Source: Kurt Ribisl et al. "Internet Sales of Cigarettes to Minors," Journal of the American Medical Association, September 10, 2003.


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