Californians—together with minors—are nonetheless in a position to purchase flavored digital cigarettes on-line, even after the state’s much-publicized ban went into impact. That’s the important thing discovering of my staff’s new research, published in JAMA Network Open.
On Dec. 21, 2022, California enacted Senate Bill 793, which prohibited the sale of most flavored tobacco merchandise, together with e-cigarettes, to individuals of all ages. Hookahs, premium cigars, and loose-leaf tobacco have been exempted from the laws.
The ban was motivated, largely, by a want to scale back consumption of tobacco amongst younger individuals—who’re significantly interested in the flavors in e-cigarettes, reminiscent of mango and creme.
Since 2021, we’ve been collecting data on the tobacco industry. As a part of this mission, we additionally labored to find out whether or not minors may illegally buy flavored e-cigarettes on-line.
Earlier than and after the passage of SB 793, our researchers—all posing on-line as minors below the age of 21—tried to purchase flavored e-cigarette merchandise from 26 web sites that offered them in California.
A “buy try” occurred when a researcher was in a position so as to add a flavored e-cigarette product to their cart, make it by way of the age verification system—if any—and supply their bank card info.
Earlier than SB 793, our buy try success charge was 52%. After SB 793, our success charge really rose—to virtually 61%.
Analysis exhibits that the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration’s 2009 ban on flavored cigarettes reduced adolescent tobacco use. That’s why California has spearheaded progressive tobacco management insurance policies—not solely with SB 793, however by way of local sales restrictions in dozens of California cities. But when on-line distributors both flout or are unaware of those legal guidelines, younger individuals should have entry to flavored tobacco merchandise.
What nonetheless isn’t recognized
It stays unclear why flavored e-cigarettes are nonetheless accessible from on-line retailers in California. It might be that distributors are flouting the brand new regulation, are unaware of it, or don’t imagine the brand new regulation applies to on-line gross sales.
A complete analysis of SB 793 compliance amongst manufacturers and distributors that promote their merchandise on-line in California would assist decide the extent to which flavored e-cigarettes are nonetheless accessible. This analysis would supply knowledge on retailer consciousness of the brand new laws and would present whether or not they perceive the potential penalties for being in violation of the new law.
Our analysis had a number of limitations. For one, our protocol for the research was developed through the COVID-19 pandemic. With the well being and security of our staff in thoughts, we prevented in-person interactions. Which means that we didn’t obtain the bundle of flavored e-cigarettes from a supply particular person.
Since we stopped our tried on-line purchases with inserting objects in an digital buying cart, this precluded our skill to look at whether or not age would have been verified at supply and to calculate the precise buy charge. Nonetheless, solely 4 web sites in our research acknowledged that age verification would really happen at supply.
Even with these caveats, these findings warrant pressing consideration from state agencies to enforce the ban on flavored e-cigarette merchandise in California.
What different analysis is being achieved
One other analysis staff collected weekly Google search charges associated to on-line looking for cigarettes and vaping merchandise in California from January 2018 to Might 2023. They discovered that buying queries have been 194% higher than expected for cigarettes and 162% higher than anticipated for e-cigarettes—which suggests shoppers are looking out on Google for vendors promoting banned products.
Jon-Patrick Allem is an affiliate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Rutgers College.