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), 2010?s Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act, and 2016?s FDA Deeming Regulations have dramatically changed 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 tobacco and flavored cigarettes, and forthcoming regulations from FDA are anticipated to restrict ITV sales even further. 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 implementation and enforcement of these regulations affects the industry, and to determine not only the extent to which ITVs comply with the regulations but also the ways 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 impact of regulations 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 17 years of studying ITVs, this goal will be achieved by pursuing six specific aims: 1. prepare comprehensive lists of online sellers of five categories of products: e- cigarettes, cigarettes, little cigars, hookah, and other tobacco products; 2. conduct ITV website content analyses to assess ITV sales practices and 3. conduct ITV youth purchase surveys to assess compliance with the FSPTCA, PACT Act, FDA Deeming, and other forthcoming regulations. The approach is innovative in that it achieves several firsts; content analyses and purchase surveys from hookah tobacco sellers, 4. evaluation of the effect of Deeming regulations on the ITV industry; and 5. Evaluation of the effectiveness of modern online age verification strategies not currently in broad use by ITVs, to determine whether they are effective and appropriate to recommend FDA require for online tobacco sales. The proposed research is significant because it will provide rapid detection of changes in ITV practices in response to new and forthcoming regulation as it 6. disseminates findings to FDA, regulators, and researchers to spur action, 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.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is relevant to public health because it evaluates the impact of new and existing federal regulations affecting Internet Tobacco Vendors, designed to minimize the health impacts of tobacco by reducing youth access, tobacco use initiation and consumption, and increasing tobacco cessation. The project is relevant to NIH?s mission because it builds on research methodologies developed over 17 years of studying Internet Tobacco Vendors, adding innovative approaches to assessing the effectiveness of advanced online age verification strategies and to assessing industry and public response to the government?s efforts to regulate the online tobacco industry in the interest of improving health outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Community Influences on Health Behavior Study Section (CIHB)
Program Officer
Prutzman, Yvonne M
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
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Chapel Hill
United States
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Williams, Rebecca S; Derrick, Jason; Liebman, Aliza Kate et al. (2018) Content analysis of age verification, purchase and delivery methods of internet e-cigarette vendors, 2013 and 2014. Tob Control 27:287-293
Williams, Rebecca S; Derrick, Jason C (2018) Internet little cigar and cigarillo vendors: Surveillance of sales and marketing practices via website content analysis. Prev Med 109:51-57
Kong, Amanda Y; Derrick, Jason C; Abrantes, Anthony S et al. (2018) What is included with your online e-cigarette order? An analysis of e-cigarette shipping, product and packaging features. Tob Control 27:699-702
Williams, Rebecca S; Derrick, Jason; Liebman, Aliza K et al. (2018) Content analysis of e-cigarette products, promotions, prices and claims on Internet tobacco vendor websites, 2013-2014. Tob Control 27:e34-e40
Williams, Rebecca S; Derrick, Jason; Phillips, K Jean (2017) Cigarette sales to minors via the internet: how the story has changed in the wake of federal regulation. Tob Control 26:415-420
Allem, Jon-Patrick; Ayers, John W; Althouse, Benjamin M et al. (2016) When a ban really is not a ban: internet loopholes and Djarum flavoured cigarettes in the USA. Tob Control 25:489-90
Nikitin, Dmitriy; Timberlake, David S; Williams, Rebecca S (2016) Is the E-Liquid Industry Regulating Itself? A Look at E-Liquid Internet Vendors in the United States. Nicotine Tob Res 18:1967-72
Ayers, John W; Althouse, Benjamin M; Allem, Jon-Patrick et al. (2016) Revisiting the Rise of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Using Search Query Surveillance. Am J Prev Med 50:e173-e181
Hall, Marissa G; Williams, Rebecca S; Gammon, Doris G et al. (2016) Internet cigarette vendors make tax-free claims and sell cigarettes cheaper than retail outlets. Tob Control 25:616-618
Jo, Catherine L; Williams, Rebecca S; Ribisl, Kurt M (2015) Tobacco products sold by Internet vendors following restrictions on flavors and light descriptors. Nicotine Tob Res 17:344-9

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