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A new form of nicotine retailers: a systematic review of the sales and marketing practices of vape shops
  1. Joseph G L Lee1,
  2. Elizabeth N Orlan2,
  3. Kerry B Sewell3,
  4. Kurt M Ribisl2,4
  1. 1 Department of Health Education & Promotion, College of Health and Human Performance, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2 Department of Health Behavior, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  3. 3 Laupus Health Sciences Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA
  4. 4 Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joseph G L Lee, Department of Health Education and Promotion, College of Health and Human Performance, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA; leejose14{at}


Objective Retailers that primarily or exclusively sell electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vaping products represent a new category of tobacco retailer. We sought to identify (a) how vape shops can be identified and (b) sales and marketing practices of vape shops.

Data sources A medical librarian iteratively developed a search strategy and in February 2017 searched seven academic databases (ABI/INFORM Complete, ECONLit, Embase, Entrepreneurship, PsycINFO, PubMed/MEDLINE and Scopus). We hand searched Tobacco Regulatory Science and Tobacco Prevention & Cessation.

Study selection We used dual, independent screening. Records were eligible if published in 2010 or later, were peer-reviewed journal articles and focused on vape shops.

Data extraction We used dual, independent data abstraction and assessed risk of bias. Of the 3605 records identified, 22 were included.

Data synthesis We conducted a narrative systematic review. Researchers relied heavily on Yelp to identify vape shops. Vape shop owners use innovative marketing strategies that sometimes diverge from those of traditional tobacco retailers. Vape shop staff believe strongly that their products are effective harm-reduction products. Vape shops were more common in areas with more White residents.

Conclusions Vape shops represent a new type of retailer for tobacco products. Vape shops have potential to promote e-cigarettes for smoking cessation but also sometimes provide inaccurate information and mislabelled products. Given their spatial patterning, vape shops may perpetuate inequities in tobacco use. The growing literature on vape shops is complicated by researchers using different definitions of vape shops (eg, exclusively selling e-cigarettes vs also selling traditional tobacco products).

  • non-cigarette tobacco products
  • advertising and promotion
  • electronic nicotine delivery devices

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  • Contributors KMR originated the study. All authors designed the study and wrote the protocol. KBS conducted the searching. JGLL, ENO and KBS conducted the screening and data abstraction. JGLL, ENO and KBS drafted the article. All authors provided critical feedback and edits to the article and approved the final version.

  • Funding Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health under Award Number U01CA154281. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests KMR serves as an expert consultant in litigation against cigarette manufacturers. JGLL and KMR have a royalty interest in store mapping and audit systems owned by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but these systems were not used in this study.

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

  • Data sharing statement All data are contained within the online supplemental file.