Direct E-Cig's starter smokeless-cigarette kits are supposed to provide a "great smoking alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes," according to the company's website. But the smokeless cigarettes are not nicotine free, and they are not meant to help smokers quit. Rather, the Florida- and London-based company's site says smokers can smoke: "virtually anywhere, without the flame, ash, tar, or carbon monoxide" of tobacco cigarettes.
According to the Better Business Bureau, the problem, over the past year, has been consumers' complaining that they received unexpected charges for what were at the time promoted as free starter kits.The Bureau received more than 360 complaints in 44 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. The Bureau maintains that Direct E-Cig failed to answer 170 of those complaints.
On March 31, the date the Bureau issued its warning about the complaints, Direct E-Cig's site contained no language about free starter-kit trials.
Bureau officials say that consumers responding to Direct E-Cig's offer of a free starter kit received their wanted merchandise but then found their credit cards billed for $100, $200 or more.
"The complaints point to a significant and ongoing pattern of problems with Direct E-Cig," said Paula Fleming, the Better Business Bureau's vice president of communications and marketing, in a statement.
In response to the BBB, the company said that the language of the free-starter-kit offer specified that consumers who ordered the product had to return it to Direct E-Cig within 15 days "to avoid being billed the full price of the kit of $109.95 and future monthly shipments." In its warning, Bureau officials said some consumers reported receiving direct e-mail solicitations from the company, and so never saw the disclaimers on the website.
Direct E-Cig's website currently specifies that kit-returners must pay $7.50 for each opened or missing smokeless-cigarette cartridge and a $10 restocking fee.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to help guard against unwanted charges, when it comes to promotional offers:
- If a free or low-cost offer requires a credit card number to enroll, look for the likely stipulation that the card number you provide will be charged some amount after a certain start-up term.
- Check the Better Business Bureau for reviews of these kinds of offers. Google the Bureau office in your area for a website and phone number.