Objective Identify the population of internet e-cigarette vendors (IEVs) and conduct content analyses of their age verification, purchase and delivery methods in 2013 and 2014.
Methods We used multiple sources to identify IEV websites, primarily complex search algorithms scanning more than 180 million websites. In 2013, we manually screened 32 446 websites, identifying 980 IEVs, selecting the 281 most popular for content analysis. This methodology yielded 31 239 websites for screening in 2014, identifying 3096 IEVs, with 283 selected for content analysis.
Results The proportion of vendors that sold online-only, with no retail store, dropped significantly from 2013 (74.7%) to 2014 (64.3%) (p<0.01), with a corresponding significant decrease in US-based vendors (71.9% in 2013 and 65% in 2014). Most vendors did little to prevent youth access in either year, with 67.6% in 2013 and 63.2% in 2014 employing no age verification or relying exclusively on strategies that cannot effectively verify age. Effective age verification strategies such as online age verification services (7.1% in 2013 and 8.5% in 2014), driving licences (1.8% in 2013 and 7.4% in 2014, p<0.01) or age verification at delivery (6.4% in 2013 and 8.1% in 2104) were rarely advertised on IEV websites. Nearly all vendors advertised accepting credit cards, and about ¾ shipping via United States Postal Service, similar to the internet cigarette industry prior to federal bans.
Conclusions The number of IEVs grew sharply from 2013 to 2014, with poor age verification practices. New and expanded regulations for online e-cigarette sales are needed, including strict age and identity verification requirements.
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Contributors RSW had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study concept and design: RSW, KMR.
Acquisition, analysis or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: RSW, JD, AKL, KMR.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: JD.
Obtained funding: RSW, KMR.
Administrative, technical or material support: RSW and JD.
Study supervision: RSW.
Funding This study was funded by grant 5R01CA169189-02 from the National Cancer Institute.
Competing interests KMR has served as an expert consultant in litigation against tobacco companies.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement There are additional unpublished data from this study, but they are not publicly available, and are intended for use in further publications by the Internet Tobacco Vendors Study team.
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