“We’re doing research that gives the government the empirical evidence it needs to guide the development of regulations,” said Rebecca Williams, a researcher at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our study is one of many studies that are examining tobacco control policy related issues.“
The Lineberger study, published Monday, was funded by the National Cancer Institute and focused on the sale of e-cigarette products online to minors.
“We had minors buy e-cigarettes online to see just how easy it is to buy online,” Williams said. “It was very easy for the teens to buy e-cigarettes.”
Williams said five out of 98 orders were rejected due to age verification, which created a 93.7 percent purchase success rate in underage tobacco users. Williams said few online sellers used age verification that blocked access entirely.
She said that while seven vendors around the world claimed to use age verification techniques that could potentially comply with North Carolina’s age verification law, only one vendor actually did comply.
“The companies have little motivation to actually verify their ages," she said.
Williams said she believes the study might impact the enforcement of North Carolina’s laws.
Daniel Salgado, a UNC student, said he started in high school, and smoking became a way to deal with stress.
“I started out very recreationally and socially smoking, and it very much progressed to using it as a stress-coping mechanism, and that’s really where my addiction probably started,” Salgado said.
Harry Wasnak, a UNC student, began smoking before he turned 18.
“When I was in high school I was like 15, but I wasn’t smoking regularly for a long time. It was mostly just like when I was at parties, then when I got here all my friends smoked so I started smoking,” Wasnak said.
Williams recognized that tobacco products are highly addictive and said part of the issue is the marketing of the substance.
“I think that part of that is the result of the large-scale public effort to educate people,” Williams said, adding that those efforts have contributed to a changing social norm when it comes to smoking. “That in and of itself encourages people to quit and changes what people see as acceptable.”
Salgado said he’s tried to quit smoking seven times.
“I’ve quit because I’ve been sick and for the sake of my wellbeing. It’s very much a real struggle, but then within a few days I’ll be back,” Salgado said.
“Do you really expect us to quit? Everyone wants to. No one wants to smoke,” he said. “It’s a non-negotiable element of your life. It’s like, ‘I need this.’ It’s not like ‘I want this.’”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misquoted in a few instances researcher Rebecca Williams, who said she is doing research that gives the government the empirical evidence it needs to guide regulations. Williams said that while seven vendors around the world claimed to use age verification techniques that could potentially comply with North Carolina’s age verification law, only one actually did. The story has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.