There is a fundamental gap in the understanding of how newly passed federal regulations have and will continue to affect the sales practices of Internet Tobacco Vendors (ITVs). In the past, they have enjoyed relatively few regulatory restrictions as compared to retail stores, resulting in widespread excise tax evasion and poor youth access prevention. 2009's Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) and 2010's Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act will dramatically change the environment for Internet tobacco sales by giving the FDA power to regulate tobacco, restricting the shipment of tobacco from ITVs, mandating age verification and tax reporting, and banning the sale of light and flavored cigarettes. The ITV industry has proven highly adaptable to attempts to regulate it, exploiting loopholes in regulations and increasing their offerings of less regulated products similar to those that have been banned. Continued in- depth surveillance of this industry is important to assess how the states and FDA implement new regulations, and to determine not only the extent to which ITVs comply with new regulations but also the ways in which they find ways to avoid compliance and/or adapt to regulations in new and unexpected ways. Our broad goal is to use state-of-the-art research methods to conduct extensive surveillance of the online retail environment for tobacco, to evaluate the implementation and impact of state and federal policies on this industry's practices, and to disseminate our findings to policymakers in the interest of guiding future policy and enforcement efforts. Building on data and protocols developed over 12 years of studying ITVs, this goal will be achieved by pursuing six specific aims: 1. prepare a comprehensive annually updated list of online sellers of four categories of products: cigarettes, e-cigarettes, little cigars, and other tobacco products;2. conduct yearly ITV website content analyses and 3. annual ITV youth purchase surveys to assess compliance with the FSPTCA, PACT Act, and other existing and new regulations expected to be issued by FDA starting in 2012;4. conduct lab tests on cigarettes obtained in purchase surveys to determine if they are smuggled or counterfeit and/or contain abnormally high levels of hazardous ingredients;5. Continually monitor news and Google keyword searches to assess trends related to new regulations and products restricted by the FDA;and 6. Disseminate findings to regulators, state and federal agencies, and researchers to spur action. This approach is innovative in that it achieves several firsts: content analyses and purchase surveys from sellers of little cigars and e-cigarettes;testing of cigarettes purchased online to determine if they are contraband and/or contain dangerous levels of heavy metals;and analysis of news and search trends related to ITVs and the new federal regulations. The proposed research is significant because it will provide rapid detection of changes in ITV practices in response to new and forthcoming regulations, enabling the government to more effectively revise their regulatory and enforcement efforts, with a greater goal of reducing the public health threats posed by ITV sales.
The proposed research is relevant to public health because it evaluates the impact of new federal regulations designed to minimize the health impacts of tobacco by reducing youth access, tobacco use initiation and consumption, and increasing tobacco cessation. This project is relevant to NIH's mission because it builds on research methodologies developed over 12 years of studying Internet Tobacco Vendors, adding innovative approaches to assessing industry and public response to the government's efforts to regulate the online tobacco industry in the interest of improving health outcomes.