“Make the Switch Today and Live Healthier”, “Slim, Charged, Ready to Go” or “I have made the switch, will you?” These statements sound enthusiastic, right? At the very first impression, it may seem that somebody is promoting any food or wellness product. However, these are some mantras of popular vapor cigarette brands. Vapor cigarette, widely known as electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a battery powered cigarette that uses liquid vaporizer based tobacco products. E-cigarette became a huge hit so quickly after entering the market because, it does not produce ashes, it is rechargeable & handy, and it comes in different flavors. Because of these features, e-cigarette makers and smokers argue that it can be smoked “anywhere”, without harming “others.”
Despite of such “benefits” of inhaling e-cigarette, medical experts confirmed serious health concerns caused from so called environmental friendly tobacco products, because, e-cigarette still contains “nicotine” as the main chemical ingredient in a liquid form. One of the main reasons behind the popularity of e-cigarette is that it comes in different exquisite flavors. A report published by NPR revealed that kids are being attracted so easily toward this tobacco product because of its flavors and “youth” branding by the manufacturers. NPR reported quoting a minor e-cigarette smoker that vaping is a “cool” and “new” thing”, and as it provides flavored nicotine, it is helpful in quitting smoking. Conversely, physicians denied such statements and blamed that e-cigarette companies are targeting kids for their nicotine products with false impression and they are going to destroy our future generation.
A study conducted by American Legacy Foundation reported that usage of e-cigarette among kids and youths is also high. 14% of those ages 13-17 and 39% of those ages 18-21 reported having ever used e-cigarettes. Among youth ages 12-17, those who had ever or currently smoked reported even higher rates of e-cigarette use, 53% and 59% respectively. Rates of e-cigarette ever use were higher among young adults who had ever smoked (68%) and current smokers (76%).
Advertising agencies are easily blamed for the success of e-cigarette company’s huge market share of kids and young adults smokers. Agencies are accused of real tobacco marketing strategies for branding e-cigarettes. They are creating the kind of advertising which are closely based on the theme of some cartoon characters, superheroes and they are also using “sex” with models and images to create a “heroic” image of e-cigarette smokers. More than seventy years ago R. J. Reynold Tobacco Company used “Joe camel” as its tobacco brand mascot, which was hugely popular over the years. More recently, e-cigarette advertisers are using such themes to attract youth. Stanford University School of Medicine initiated a major research on the impact of tobacco products. They have presented a comparative research on how e-cigarette brands are using the advertising themes of earlier tobacco brands.
Nevertheless, major forces behind such advertising campaigns are the e-cigarette manufacturers, not the agencies. Advertising agencies are doing such promotional campaigns for profits, just as they do for their other clients. USA Today reported that e-cigarettes fall into a loophole for federal regulation, which made the companies to advertise e-cigarette products just as like other consumer products. FDA has control over regular cigarette advertising, but they do not have any authority to regulate e-cigarette advertising. Moreover, e-cigarette makers are arguing that if e-cigarette has to be regulated on the ground that it is harmful for the children, then all alcohol, condom and such types of advertising should be regulated too.
RTI International researchers conducted a study which found that E-cigarette advertising expenditures have increased intensely in 2011-2012, compared to the previous year. There were about 80 e-cigarette brands who spent a total of more than 18 million USD for advertising in 2012. Till November 2013, the amount spent on advertising increased up to 39 million UDS including TV and magazine advertising. American Legacy Foundation also reported that e-cigarette TV ads reached 29.3 million teens and young adults from January through November2013, among which teens ages 12-17, 14.1 million were exposed to e-cigarette ads on TV while among young adults ages 18-24, 15.2 million were exposed. At the same time, print ads in magazines reached 32.2 million teens and young adults, among which teens ages 12-17, 9.5 million were reached through these ads while 22.7 million young adults ages 18-24 were exposed to e-cigarette print ads.
A recent investigated study conducted by some medical researchers from Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco confirmed that e-cigarette brands are targeting new smokers, specially children and teens for their products. They are using attractive copy, young & sexy models, heroism in theirs ads, and they are also taking advantages of federal regulation loopholes. The recent perspective of e-cigarette use and advertising brings the debate of “who is to blame for the upcoming destructive consequences?” The resolution to this debate is not so simple. Everybody is pointing finger toward others. Truly speaking, government, legislature, manufacturer, advertising agency, and public all have some sort of responsibilities to such consequences. So, not only stopping advertising will do but also there should be a general awareness among the publics, if we really want to reduce nicotine use. Government and federal legislature also needs to pass strong bills to restrict such products that can completely wipe out our future.
BONUS: Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising