California banned menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products in late 2022, based on concerns the flavors encouraged teens to get hooked on nicotine.
But a new study finds many smokers simply shrugged and turned to online shopping for their flavored vapes.
Online shopping for flavored cigarettes and vapes increased significantly in the weeks following the implementation of the ban, according to findings published Nov. 7 in the journal Tobacco Control.
Researchers discovered that shopping queries were 194% higher than expected for cigarettes and 162% higher than expected for vape products after the law went into effect.
“Retailer licensing programs have proven to be effective in enforcing tobacco control laws. However, the exclusion of e-commerce retailers from these programs can undermine their impact,” said lead researcher Eric Leas, an assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the Tobacco E-commerce Lab.
Web searches revealed that at least two and as many as 36 online retailers continue to offer access to flavored vapes or menthol cigarettes, researchers found.
“The absence of explicit regulations on e-commerce sales can create loopholes in enforcing tobacco control laws, allowing consumers to easily access restricted products online,” Leas explained in a university news release. “By including e-commerce in the definition of ‘tobacco retailer’ and ensuring strict compliance monitoring, we can close these loopholes and improve the effectiveness of tobacco control policies.”
Leas and his colleagues recommend strengthening regulations to include e-commerce retailers within the scope of California’s retailer licensing programs. They also emphasized the importance of monitoring online compliance with the ban.
“The study’s findings have important implications for policymakers and public health advocates, emphasizing the need for comprehensive regulations that address the challenges posed by the growing e-commerce market for tobacco products,” said Leas.
The American Lung Association has more about helping teens quit smoking and vaping.
SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Nov. 7, 2023
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