The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act bans characterizing flavors (e.g., grape, strawberry) in cigarettes, excluding tobacco and menthol, and prohibits companies from using misleading descriptors (e.g., light, low) that imply reduced health risks without submitting scientific data to support the claim and obtaining a marketing authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This observational study examines tobacco products offered by Internet cigarette vendors (ICV) pre- and postimplementation of the ban on characterizing flavors in cigarettes and the restriction on misleading descriptors.
Cross-sectional samples of the 200 most popular ICVs in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were identified. Data were analyzed in 2012 and 2013.
In 2011 the odds for selling cigarettes with banned flavors or misleading descriptors were 0.40 times that for selling the products in 2009 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.18, 0.88). However, 89% of vendors continued to sell the products, including 95.8% of international vendors. Following the ban on characterizing flavors, ICVs began selling potential alternative products. In 2010, the odds for selling flavored little cigars were 1.71 (95% CI = 1.09, 2.69) times that for selling the product in 2009 and, for clove cigars, were 5.50 (95% CI = 2.36, 12.80) times that for selling the product in 2009.
Noncompliance with the ban on characterizing flavors and restriction on misleading descriptors has been high, especially among international vendors. Many vendors appear to be circumventing the intent of the flavors ban by selling unbanned flavored cigars, in some cases in lieu of flavored cigarettes.