2011-04-09 / News

BBB issues warning on Direct E-Cig

COLUMBUS – Consumers who tried to take advantage of “free” Internet offers for smokeless cigarettes say they were burned by unexpected charges that totaled $100 or more, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

Customers from 44 states have filed more than 360 complaints against Direct E-Cig of Naples, Fla., and London, England, in the last year. Of those complaints 28 came from Ohio, including some from the Central Ohio area.

Direct E-Cig has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.

Kip Morse, BBB President and CEO, said Direct E-Cig failed to answer 170 of the complaints.

“The complaints point to a significant and ongoing pattern of problems with Direct E-Cig,” Morse said. “Many consumers say they thought they were ordering a free starter kit, only to learn the company debited their checking accounts or billed their credit cards for a “club” costing $100, $200, or more. The cigarettes may be smokeless, but a lot of customers felt they were burned.”

On its website, Direct E-Cig calls its product “a revolutionary electronic smoking device designed as a great smoking alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.” The site says smokers can smoke “virtually anywhere, without the flame, ash, tar or carbon monoxide.”

Direct E-Cig is among several distributors of smokeless cigarettes. Other companies also offer free or discounted starter kits and then bill customers for the full price or enroll them in an ongoing program to receive cartridge refills and other products.

While consumers say they never saw the cancellation policy, nor did they see anything that disclosed to them that they were signing up for a “club”, Direct E-Cig has replied to some complaints saying consumers must go through a cancellation process within 15 days “to avoid being billed the full price of the kit of $109.95 and future monthly shipments.”

Even if consumers are dissatisfied with the product and follow the return policy exactly, it appears the so-called free trial offer cost them money. The website notes that Direct E-Cig charges $7.50 for each opened or missing cartridge and a $10 restocking fee on all returns.

A woman from Powell, said she was searching the Internet for aids to help her quit smoking when she came upon a glowing review for Direct E-Cig on what she thought was an independent healthwatch consumer site. She clicked on the link provided which took her to an ordering page. The charger she received did not function properly so she threw it away. A few days later she received an email thanking her for her order. She called and spoke to a representative telling them she did not order the product. She was then advised that she had joined a club and would be receiving nicotine every month. She went to the website and opted out of the club. Later she learned that $99.90 had been taken out of her account. The company did not respond to BBB’s requests to help resolve the dispute. She said the Ecig “wasn’t worth $100”. She went on to call the product “defective and horrible.”

A Reynoldsburg, woman said she signed up for the $4.95 trial offer but no where on their website did it say when she signed her and her husband up for the free trial that they would still have to pay for the entire starter kit fee. She said, “I think it’s awful that this notification was not on your website but a link with small print”.

A woman from Columbus, said “This is more expensive than smoking” after a similar experience with Direct E-Cig.

The highest number of complaints about Direct E-Cig have come from Ohio and Texas, each having 28 complaints, followed by California with 27, Illinois and Florida with 26 each, New York with 24, and lastly Missouri with 16.

A warning in small print on the Direct E-Cig website notes “This product contains nicotine, a highly addictive substance. It has not been approved by the FDA as a smoke cessation device.”

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration warns consumers about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes, saying “e-cigarettes can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead kids to try other tobacco products”.

The BBB offers the following advice for consumers who are considering taking advantage of free or low-cost trial offers for smokeless cigarettes or other products:

* Be very cautious of committing to trial offers, especially when you are asked to supply credit card information. Often, these offers require you to pay the full price for the product or automatically enroll you in an ongoing program as soon as the trial period is over.

* Consumers often report difficulty canceling their agreements, even if they try to follow all requirements.

* Understand that, in some cases, these companies can supply your contact information to other businesses.

* Check out BBB Business Reviews by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 614-486-6336.

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