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Internet cigarette vendors make tax-free claims and sell cigarettes cheaper than retail outlets
  1. Marissa G Hall1,2,
  2. Rebecca S Williams2,3,
  3. Doris G Gammon4,
  4. Kurt M Ribisl1,2,3
  1. 1Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  3. 3Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina, Carrboro, North Carolina, USA
  4. 4RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Marissa G Hall, Department of Health Behaviour, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rosenau Hall CB7440, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 USA; mghall{at}


Objective This paper aims to (1) assess whether promotion of tax-free sales among Internet cigarette vendors (ICVs) changed between 2009 and 2011, (2) determine which types of ICVs are most likely to promote tax-free sales (eg, US-based, international or mixed location ICVs), and (3) compare the price of cigarettes advertised in ICVs to prices at brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

Methods We analysed data from the 200 most popular ICVs in 2009, 2010 and 2011 to assess promotion of tax-free sales and the price of Marlboro cigarette cartons. We used Nielsen scanner data from 2009, 2010 and 2011 to measure the price of Marlboro cartons in US grocery stores.

Findings The odds of ICVs claiming tax-free status were higher in 2011 than in 2009 (OR=1.58, p<0.01). Mixed location and international vendors had higher odds of promoting tax-free sales than US-based ICVs (OR=4.95 and 6.23, respectively, both p<0.001). In 2011, the average price of one Marlboro carton was $35.27 online, compared to $52.73 in US grocery stores. We estimated that in 2011, a pack-a-day smoker living in an area with high cigarette prices would save $1508 per year buying cigarettes online.

Conclusions ICVs commonly promote tax-free sales, and cigarettes are cheaper online compared to US grocery stores. Better enforcement of the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act is needed to address tax-free cigarette sales among ICVs.

  • Economics
  • Illegal tobacco products
  • Price
  • Taxation

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  • Contributors MGH helped formulate the research, analysed the data and drafted the paper. RSW formulated the research, oversaw data collection, drafted sections of the paper and edited multiple drafts of the paper. DGG analysed price data and edited multiple drafts of the paper. KMR formulated the research and edited multiple drafts of the paper.

  • Funding MGH was supported by grant number 5R01CA169189-02 from NCI, and grant number 64747 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Substance Abuse Policy Research Programme.

  • Competing interests In the past, KMR has served as an Expert Consultant in litigation against Internet tobacco vendors for violating taxation and youth access laws.

  • Ethics approval This study did not involve human subjects research and was thus exempt from ethical review.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.