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E-cigarette marketers are targeting youth

Harold Mandel's picture
A woman enjoying an e-cigarette

There has been efforts by marketers to make e-cigarettes appear to be the final solution to the cigarette smoking problem. This is deceptive because it appears e-cigarettes are not exactly devoid of the potential to cause health problems. This becomes of even more concern when we consider that e-cigarette marketers have been spending more and more resources on targeting young people who may be particularly vulnerable to any deleterious effects of this product.

It's not exactly clear to what extent young people are exposed to e-cigarette ads

The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) marketing unless the product is advertised as a smoking cessation aid reported the journal Pediatrics.
At this time it is not exactly clear to what extent youth and young adults are exposed to e-cigarette television advertisements. Researchers decided to investigate trends in youth and young adult exposure to television advertisements for e-cigarettes.

Youth exposure to television e-cigarette ads has increased dramatically

It has been found that youth exposure to television e-cigarette advertisements has increased 256 percent between 2011 to 2013. Over the same period young adult exposure increased by 321 percent. Greater than 76 percent of all youth e-cigarette advertising exposure was observed to have occurred on cable networks. It has been concluded by the researchers that at this time e-cigarette companies are advertising their products to a broad audience which includes 24 million young people.

An extensive advertising campaign on national cable networks was seen as being behind the dramatic increase in youth and young adult television exposure between 2011 and 2013. It appears that the present e-cigarette television advertising may be promoting beliefs and behaviors which pose harm to the public health. Jennifer Duke, Ph.D., senior research public health analyst and co-author of the study, has said if the current trends continue an awareness and use of e-cigarettes will continue to increase among youth and young adults.

According to a study done by researchers at RTI International and the Florida Department of Health television advertising for e-cigarettes has increased two-fold for youth and three-fold for young adults in the U.S. during the past two years reports RTI. This has occurred in the absence of the type of federal regulations that apply to tobacco cigarettes. Greater than 80 percent of the advertisements in 2013 were for a single brand, blu eCigs. This firm is owned by the tobacco company Lorillard.

The extensive e-cigarette ad exposure to youth on cable networks included:

1: AMC

2: Country Music Television

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3: Comedy Central

4: WGN America

5: TV Land

6: VH1

E-cigarette ads appeared on programs that were among the 100 highest-rated youth programs for the 2012-2013 TV season, including:

1: The Bachelor

2: Big Brother

3: Survivor

Duke says in view of the potential harm of e-cigarettes to youth and their potential use as a gateway to using cigarettes and other tobacco products, the FDA should be regulating the positive images of e-cigarettes on television and other venues where youth view advertising and marketing as they do
dealing with traditional cigarettes. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says as of 2012 there were an estimated 1.8 million middle and high school students who had used e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette vapors may cause or worsen acute respiratory diseases

It has been found in previous research by RTI that particles which are found in e-cigarette vapors may cause or worsen acute respiratory diseases, which includes asthma and bronchitis, among youth. It was found in the study that up to 40 percent of particles which are emitted by an e-cigarette can deposit in the deepest parts of a teen's lungs. It was found in another RTI study that e-cigarette ad costs tripled in the United States from $6.4 million in 2011 to $18.3 million in 2012. In 1971 traditional cigarette TV ads were banned in the U.S. However, e-cigarettes currently are not included in this restriction.

It appears that the e-cigarette marketers are involved in predatory ad campaigns directed towards young people. In view of the particularly vulnerable psychological and physical state of young people it is clear better regulatory safeguards are needed to protect them from the unscrupulous advertisers who market e-cigarettes. In the meantime more aggressive public health education is needed to help raise an awareness of the potential for serious health hazards associated with e-cigarettes. An investment in showing some public health messages along these lines on the same TV shows e-cigarette marketers are showing their ads on would appear worthwhile.