Instinctively, our objectives were to explore qualitatively how smokers find out about Internet cigarette sales and what factors motivate them to purchase cigarettes on-line, and to quantitatively describe the Internet cigarette purchasing behaviors and attitudes of Internet cigarette buyers.
Qualitative in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with 21 adult smokers who had purchased or contemplated on purchasing cigarettes on-line. Findings from the qualitative study were used to develop a survey module on Internet cigarette purchasing behavior that was administered to 187 New Jersey adult smokers.
The outcome, smokers who purchased cigarettes on-line were primarily motivated by lower prices, which occur because Internet vendors generally sell cigarettes without paying excise taxes for the destination state. Most Internet cigarette buyers first learned about on-line cigarette sales from interpersonal sources who had purchased on-line. New Jersey adult smokers who purchased cheaper cigarettes from the Internet and other lower-taxed sources significantly increased their consumption over time, compared to smokers who reported paying full-price at traditional bricks-and-mortar retail stores.
Policies that have the effect of equalizing Internet cigarette prices with those at retail stores will likely deter smokers from purchasing cigarettes on-line. Internet cigarette vendors should be required to comply with the same provisions that apply to bricks-and-mortar retail vendors and charge appropriate state and local cigarette excise taxes. In the absence of such policies, the sales of cheaper, tax-free cigarettes on-line will undermine the public health benefit of raising cigarette prices.
Relatively few smokers have purchased cigarettes on-line. In 1999, only 0.3% of California adult smokers reported usually purchasing cigarettes from the Internet. In 2001, only 2.0% of adult smokers enrolled in the 10-state Community Intervention Trial for Smoking (COMMIT) study had purchased cigarettes on-line. However, smokers residing in high excise tax New York state communities were 11 times more likely to buy cigarettes on-line than were smokers residing in low-tax state communities such as North Carolina. More recent studies suggest that the rate of Internet purchasing may be increasing. In 2000, Hrywna and colleagues found that only 1.1% of New Jersey adult smokers had ever purchased tobacco products on-line, but this figure increased to 6.7% in 2002, most likely in response to New Jersey’s $0.70 per pack cigarette excise tax hike in July 2001. Smokers who purchased cigarettes on-line were likely to be older, more nicotine dependent, and less likely to report attempting to quit in the past year. In order to curb this growing trend, we need to better understand what motivates smokers to purchase cigarettes on-line. In 2002, Hyland and colleagues found that smokers most commonly reported cheaper prices (97.6%) and convenience (73.2%) as reasons for buying cigarettes on-line. Smokers residing in high cigarette excise tax states such as New York or New Jersey can save upwards of $400/year by purchasing cigarettes on-line.
A good number of factors and advantages can be outlined why smokers should buy cigarettes online.
- Saves time and efforts.
- The convenience of shopping at home.
- Wide variety or range of cigarettes are available.
- Good discounts / lower prices.
- Get detailed information about the product.
- We can compare various models/brands.