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Internet Poses Problems for Tobacco Control

NEW YORK -- Sales of cigarettes on the Internet are expected to soar in the coming decade and will pose new problems for tobacco controls to curtail underage smoking, researchers said yesterday.

Industry experts predict one-fifth of the $40 billion in annual U.S. cigarette sales will be made over the Internet by 2011

"If deliberate and concerted action is not taken, tobacco commerce on the Internet could prove to be a significant threat to comprehensive tobacco control," said Kurt Ribisl of the North Carolina School of Public Health.

In one of the first published studies into Web sites that sell cigarettes, Ribisl and his colleagues found 88 Internet cigarette sellers in 23 states in the United States. Nearly half were in New York State and 49 of the total were on American Indian reservations, which Ribisl said could compound problems for regulators because they are considered sovereign territory.

Some of the Web sites sold duty-free cigarettes and many offered special promotions.

Ribisl said the emergence of Internet cigarette vendors presented many challenges for tobacco control advocates. "State and federal legislation and enforcement will probably be needed to ensure that appropriate excise taxes are paid on cigarettes, that gray market cigarettes are not sold online, and that youth access to tobacco products is restricted," he added.
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