Changes in the Point-of-Sale Among Vape Shops in 6 US Metropolitan Areas Over Time, 2018-2021

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco




alternative tobacco products; e-cigarettes; policy; retail marketing; tobacco control


INTRODUCTION: E-cigarette retail/marketing surveillance is needed during regulatory changes, like the US increasing minimum legal sales age to 21 (T21) and flavor restrictions (2019 and 2020) and certain state/localities increasing related restrictions. METHODS: We examined regulatory compliance (e.g., minimum-age signage), promotional strategies (e.g., health claims), and products at 2 timepoints among vape shops across 6 US metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs; Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, San Diego, Seattle). In summer 2018, pairs of trained auditors assessed randomly-selected shops (n=~30/MSA). In fall 2021, audits were conducted among 2018 shops (if open and allowed) and additional randomly-selected shops (n=~20/MSA). Data from 179 shops in 2018 and 119 in 2021 (43 from the 2018 sample) were compared. RESULTS: There were decreases (p<.01) in the proportion of shops with (1) minimum-age signs (90.5% vs. 73.9%); (2) their own e-liquid brand (68.2% vs. 44.5%), onsite vaping (73.2% vs. 46.2%), counter seating (65.2% vs. 34.5%), and e-liquid sampling (90.0% vs. 33.6%); and (3) signs with product/price promotions (89.9% vs. 65.5%), health/cessation claims (29.1% vs. 12.6%), and cartoon imagery (27.4% vs. 11.8%). The proportions selling wet/dry vaporizers (26.4% vs. 39.5%), CBD products (23.3% vs. 71.4%), and pipes/glassware/papers (18.4% vs. 52.9%) increased. In 2021, many sold THC (12.6% e-liquids, 62.2% other products) and kratom (40.3%). CONCLUSIONS: With increasing restrictions (e.g., on flavors, sampling, T21), fewer shops sold their own e-liquid brands or accommodated onsite use/sampling, but fewer also posted minimum-age signage. Notably, more offered cannabis-related products. These changes underscore the need for comprehensive surveillance to assess regulatory impact. IMPLICATIONS: The past 6 years marked increasing e-cigarette sales restrictions in the US, yet limited research has examined the implications for tobacco specialty shops selling e-cigarettes. This study found that, from 2018 to 2021, there were significant decreases in the proportion of vape shops with their own e-liquid, onsite vaping, e-liquid sampling, lounge/counter seating, and price promotions, as well as minimum age signs. There were increases in the proportion selling cannabis-derived products and related paraphernalia. Tobacco control research and regulatory agencies must consider how tobacco specialty stores have evolved alongside legislative changes that impact them and consumers.


Prevention and Community Health