Researchers sent 18- and 19-year-old “decoys” into stores without ID, instructing them to tell the truth about their age if asked. The teenagers then attempted to purchase vape products — e-cigarettes or e-liquids with nicotine — and a chaperone watched to see if the store asked for ID and made a sale.
Almost half of tobacco and vape shops illegally sold nicotine-containing products to the teens, according to the research, published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics. Liquor stores, supermarkets and pharmacies were significantly more likely to check for ID and less likely to make the illegal sales.
The research team, consisting of scientists from the California Department of Public Health and Stanford University, also found that vape and tobacco shops were more likely to sell teenagers vape products than traditional cigarettes.
It’s unclear why that’s the case, but “one possibility may be that vape products cost more and they might have a higher profit margin for retailers, so the temptation is greater to sell,” said Lisa Henriksen, a co-author of the study and a senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
‘Raising the age is not enough’
The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew L. Myers, said the study “underscores the serious shortcomings of claims” from vape manufacturers that “the only solution needed for the youth e-cigarette epidemic is to raise the tobacco age to 21.”
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said that “due to California’s recently enacted law raising the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21, it is probable that those under 18 are less likely to successfully purchase than in the past, but retailers are still mistakenly selling products to adults between the ages of 18 and 21.”
Preventing teen access
“We need to commend the FDA for trying to solve the epidemic of youth vaping by restricting the retail environment for these products,” said Henriksen, who co-authored the new study on IDs.
“What we’re worried about,” she said, “is concentrating sales in stores with the worst record [of age verification and illegal sales] without stepping up enforcement significantly.”
CNN’s Susan Scutti and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Gregory Conley’s name.