UNC study shows Internet offers youths easy way to buy cigarettes

CHAPEL HILL -- Children and adolescents can buy cigarettes easily through the Internet since cigarette venders have weak or nonexistent age verification methods, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes. Retail tobacco sales to minors are against the law in all 50 states.

The study is the first scientific investigation to document Internet cigarette sales to minors, researchers say. Reported in the Sept. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the project involved having four youths, aged 11 to 15 and under adult supervision, try to buy cigarettes from 55 Internet cigarette vendors.

"Our four volunteers made 83 purchase attempts, paying by credit card 47 times and by money order 36 times," said Dr. Kurt M. Ribisl assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the UNC School of Public Health. "We found the kids successfully received cigarettes for 93.6 percent of credit card purchase attempts and 88.9 percent of money order purchase attempts.

"Age was never verified for any of these deliveries," said Ribisl, also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Internet vendors sent a total of 1,650 packs of cigarettes to the underage youth in our study."

Co-authors of the JAMA report are public health doctoral students Rebecca S. Williams and Annice E. Kim. Money to buy the cigarettes was donated privately to the group.

Ribisl said it surprised him that more than 90 percent of the Internet vendors warned potential customers that they needed to be at least 18 years old to purchase cigarettes, yet more than 90 percent of the vendors sold cigarettes to the children anyway.

"More than a quarter of cigarette vendors also operated a retail store, and almost two-thirds were on Indian reservations," he said.

Some vendors required buyers to mail or fax a copy of their photo ID, but only three of the money order and one of the credit card purchases

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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