Regulating the tobacco industry in all its aspects, be they the production, the promotion and the sale of its products is taken very seriously by authorities across the globe, which often resort to strict outright bans, such as in the case of flavoured cigarettes, a ban on which is currently in force in the USA, the European Union and several other countries in the world.
Attempting to examine the reactions of consumers and the tobacco industry to flavored cigarette bans, which were enacted in the United States in 2009 through a federal Food and Drug Administration ban, the US National Cancer Institute funded a targeted research carried out by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine, the results of which were publicized through a paper which appeared on 17 June in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control.
The results of the research where very interesting since they reveal that despite the strict ban, the online interest in flavored cigarettes remains high and that although they are considered illegal, flavored cigarettes are a very popular internet search target. Moreover, they are still available for purchase over the internet with relative ease.
The actual method used by the researchers which led them to conclude that there is heightened online interest in flavored cigarettes, was conducting a case study on Djarum, a manufacturer of flavored cigarettes and cigars, the latter of which are still legal.
By monitoring the search terms “Djarum cigarettes” and “Djarum cigars” in Google, the scientists discovered in the first 50 search results for “Djarum cigarettes”, 72 % of the websites promoted and 34% actually sold the illegal cigarettes. Additionally, there were 291% more searches for the flavored cigarette line than for the replacement cigar line more than five years after the relevant ban.
Researchers pointed out that they were not as much surprised by the fact that the “Web is being used to circumvent tobacco regulations,” but rather more by “the constant rate of interest in the illegal products [the cigarettes] versus the legal products [cigars].”
In order to combat this phenomenon, the researchers suggest beefed-up enforcement, fines and shutting down websites where possible, though they recognize that tobacco vendor websites can be hosted outside of the country that has enacted a ban.