Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Public Health Policy For Internet Cigarette Retailers


Enter the word “cigarettes” in an Internet search engine and you will probably find an Internet cigarette retailer (“Internet cigarette retailer”) at the top of your list of search results. The number of Internet cigarette retailers has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2000, Professor Kurt Ribisl of the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill and colleagues undertook the first comprehensive survey of the number of domestic Internet cigarette retailers and identified 88 Internet cigarette retailers operating through hundreds of websites. Four years later, their follow-up study identified 775 domestic Internet cigarette retailers.

This trend is a concern because tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarettes kill 400,000 Americans every year. Tobacco-related deaths exceed the number of people killed by alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. Additionally, smoking-attributable health-care expenditures are approximately $75.5 billion annually.

This Synopsis discusses problems associated with Internet cigarette retailers, and the state and federal laws that can be used to address these problems. Section I of this Synopsis discusses the marketing and operation of Internet cigarette retailers. Section II outlines efforts by states to collect their tobacco taxes on sales by Internet cigarette retailers and to prevent Internet cigarette retailers from selling to children. Section III discusses impediments to state action, the most significant being the threat of legal challenges under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. This section also addresses Native American sovereignty, as many domestic Internet cigarette retailers operate from within Native American lands.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View