KSN Investigates: E-cigarettes and teens

KSN Investigates

A KSN undercover investigation reveals that local stores are not doing enough to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors.

In Kansas, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18, and the only way for stores to guarantee they aren’t breaking the law is to “card” the buyer, just like they do for alcohol sales. Violating the 2012 ban on underage e-cigarette sales could cost a store up to $1,000 in fines and possibly their license.

House Bill 2324 creates new crimes concerning minors and electronic cigarettes. It is unlawful to sell, furnish, or distribute electronic cigarettes to any person under 18 years of age and to sell electronic cigarettes by means of a vending machine. It also requires a retail dealer to add “electronic cigarettes” to the sign explaining cigarettes and tobacco products cannot be sold to minors. It is unlawful for any person under 18 to purchase, attempt to purchase, possess, or attempt to possess electronic cigarettes.

But are those penalties enough to make stores vigilant about checking ID’s?

Going Undercover | Setting up the sting

Regina, Mikey, and Amber went undercover for KSN’s story. (KSN Photo)

KSN recruited two WSU students, Regina and Mikey, to pose as customers, plus a KSN producer, Amber. All three are old enough to legally buy e-cigarettes. They wouldn’t be breaking the law, but it might be difficult for store clerks to guess their age.

Some Wichitans we asked couldn’t. Two men guessed that Regina was 16 or 13, when she is actually 19.

One woman thought Mikey could be 16 years old, but another woman guessed correctly at 19.

People thought Amber, who is the oldest of the three at 22, was anywhere from 14 to 21 years old.

Going Undercover | Specialty e-Cig stores

Next, we put e-cigarette stores to the test. We gave our volunteers a hidden camera, and they tried to buy without an ID.

10 E Cig Store, 7 refuse to sell
Map of E-Cig stores

“I just need a cartridge,” Mikey said to the clerk at the first store. Minutes later, he left with an e-cigarette refill in hand.

When KSN confronted the clerk about why he didn’t card Mikey, he looked surprised.

“No, I thought I checked,” said the clerk, who later revealed he’s the owner of the store. “I do, I usually always do. I can’t believe I did that.”

Another store owner let the kids sample a popular flavor of e-juice called Marilyn Monroe, but then he refused to sell it to them without an ID. When KSN asked him why, he said, “They just grabbed it on their own. I didn’t know.”

In all, KSN visited 10 e-cigarette stores in Wichita. The majority of them, seven, refused to sell to our undercover customers without seeing an ID.

E-Cig Store Sell without ID? Address
316 Vapes Yes 21st & Rock
Big E’s Vapor Shop East No 946 S. Rock Road
E Cigs Plus No 901 S. Seneca
E-Cigs Etc. Yes 707 N. Mt. Carmel
Elements No 515 S. Woodlawn
Lucky’s Vape & Smoke No, did give sample 4100 E. Harry
Lucky’s Vape Lounge No 575 W. Douglas
Puffs No 3700 E. Douglas
Vapor E-Cigarettes No 3137 W. Maple
Vapor Trail E Cigs Yes 3570 N. Woodlawn

Going Undercover | Convenience stores

It was a very different story at convenience stores.

We stopped at 15 of them all across Wichita, and nine sold e-cig products without seeing an ID. Several clerks didn’t even ask.

One clerk told KSN he wasn’t aware of the ban on underage sales.

“I didn’t know you had to be 18 to buy the juice,” the clerk said.

15 Convenience Stores, 9 sold without id
Map of Convenience Stores

We even caught clerks at the most common convenience store in Wichita, QuikTrip—not once or twice, but at three different locations.

Each time, the clerks said they could tell by looking that the undercover customer, Amber, was old enough.

“It’s not really that hard for me, “ said one clerk. “I can always tell. I don’t have psychic powers or anything.

But when asked if QuikTrip allows him to make such a judgment call, he said, “No, I just assumed for myself, and I know I shouldn’t have done that.”

That’s exactly what QuikTrip’s spokesperson, Mike Thornbrugh, told KSN. “Well, I mean obviously we’re disappointed because we take responsible retailing very seriously, and what your investigation shows, quite frankly, is that we have some work to do, even though we did not break the law, we did not do our policy, which is to ID anybody who appears to be under the age of 40.”  

Convenience Store Sell without ID? Address
1 Stop / Phillips 66 No 802 N West
Casey’s General Store No 3540 S. Meridian
Family Mart Yes Harry & Meridian
Flying Eagle No 277 S Ridge Rd
Johnson’s General Store Yes 1003 S Seneca St
Kwik Shop No 2142 N Webb Rd
Kwik Shop No 6327 E 13th St N
Noori Convenience Store Yes 801 S. Oliver
Phillips 66 Yes Hillside & Kellogg
Phillips 66 Food Mart Yes 7101 E Lincoln St
Presto Phillips 66 Yes 1254 S. Tyler Rd.
QuikTrip Yes 626 W. Arkansas
QuikTrip Yes 2510 W. Pawnee
QuikTrip Yes 324 S West St
Stop ‘n Shop No 1826 W 13th St N

The legal conundrum

Kansas law does not require stores to card, and no federal law applies to e-cigarettes.

“Our understanding is that the FDA does not currently regulate e-cigarettes,” said Jeannine Koranda, spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Revenue, which oversees e-cigarette sales.

RELATED LINK | 5 facts about e-Cigarettes and the FDA

When presented with the findings of KSN’s investigation, Koranda said their undercover enforcement had much better results.

“Most of the retailers that we go out and do these controlled buys are complying with the law or are not selling to minors,” said Koranda.

Could more be done? Should more be done?

Yet the group called “Tobacco Free Wichita” believes more should be done.

“Yes, I think it would be helpful to require carding. This is important enough,” said Carolyn Gaughan.

Even though e-cigarettes do not have tobacco or tar that can cause cancer, Tobacco Free Wichita says the vapor from the electronic devices carries plenty of nicotine, which is highly addictive.

RELATED LINK | What are inside e-Cigs?

At least as addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol,” said Gaughan.

Questionable marketing towards the youth

A big reason Tobacco Free Wichita is so concerned about this is the skyrocketing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people.

WEBMD | Learn more about how e-Cigarettes and the pros and cons

In 2013, a study by the Centers for Disease Control shows almost a quarter of a million teens who had never smoked before used e-cigarettes.


For the first time last year, a study from the University of Michigan shows more teens used e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes.

RELATED LINK | Study finds spike in teen vaping

The FDA has proposed a new rule for e-cigarettes that is still under debate. It would require makers of e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco and other nicotine products to list the ingredients on the package, along with a warning label.

But groups like Tobacco Free Wichita want the FDA to go further, like banning e-cigarettes from using the candy and fruit flavorings that seem aimed at kids.

Tobacco Free Wichita is also working with the City of Wichita to add e-cigarette regulations to the local Youth Access Ordinance that now only applies to regular cigarettes.

RELATED LINK | Kansas Statues and punishments for tobacco violations

Kansas State Statutes

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