Content analysis of e-cigarette products, promotions, prices and claims on Internet tobacco vendor websites, 2013–2014

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Abstract

Objective

To identify the population of Internet e-cigarette vendors (IEVs) and conduct content analysis of products sold and IEVs’ promotional, claims and pricing practices.

Methods

Multiple sources were used to identify IEV websites, primarily complex search algorithms scanning over 180 million websites. In 2013, 32 446 websites were manually screened, identifying 980 IEVs, with the 281 most popular selected for content analysis. This methodology yielded 31 239 websites for manual screening in 2014, identifying 3096 IEVs, with 283 selected for content analysis.

Results

While the majority of IEVs (71.9%) were US based in 2013, this dropped to 64.3% in 2014 (p<0.01), with IEVs located in at least 38 countries, and 12% providing location indicators reflecting two or more countries, complicating jurisdictional determinations.

Results

Reflecting the retail market, IEVs are transitioning from offering disposable and ‘cigalike’ e-cigarettes to larger tank and “mod” systems. Flavored e-cigarettes were available from 85.9% of IEVs in 2014, with fruit and candy flavors being most popular. Most vendors (76.5%) made health claims in 2013, dropping to 43.1% in 2014. Some IEVs featured conflicting claims about whether or not e-cigarettes aid in smoking cessation. There was wide variation in pricing, with e-cigarettes available as inexpensive as one dollar, well within the affordable range for adults and teens.

Conclusions

The number of Internet e-cigarette vendors grew threefold from 2013 to 2014, far surpassing the number of Internet cigarette vendors (N=775) at the 2004 height of that industry. New and expanded regulations for online e-cigarette sales are needed, including restrictions on flavors and marketing claims.

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