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Updates: Electronic Cigarettes

More studies show young adults are being targeted

A recent study published by JAMA Pediatrics concludes that the use of electronic cigarettes does not discourage, and may even encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents. That report is just one more disturbing look at how e-cigarettes may be affecting the nation’s youth. It comes at a time when smoking prevalence among children in grades 8, 10 and 12 has declined to just below 10%.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently considering a nation-wide ban on e-cig sales to minors under the age of 18. The proposed rules would also require manufacturers to list all of the ingredients in e-cigs as well as nicotine warnings. But although Illinois already bans the sale of e-cigs to minors, a recent NBC 5 Investigates found that, not surprisingly, retailers do not always check identification cards for anyone who looks under the age of 27.

A group of Illinois House Representatives and Senators have banded together to introduce HB 5689, Child Safe E-Cigarettes. The bill amends the Illinois Poison Prevention Packaging Act, by requiring that electronic cigarette cartridges and liquids sold and marketed for the refilling of e-cigarette cartridges may be sold only in special packaging. It also establishes that the Department of Public Health will establish the standards for the special packaging. If enacted, the bill would go into effect immediately. Currently, the bill has been referred to the Public Health Committee.

But in reality, it may be the marketing of e-cigs to adolescents that is the bigger problem. While the tobacco industry spends more than $8 billion a year marketing its products, a new study examining online advertisements finds that the industry’s ads primarily focus on promoting e-cigs, snus (a smokeless tobacco product), and cigars according to the national public health foundation Legacy. The study, published in the peer review journal, Tobacco Control, is the first to conduct comprehensive surveillance of all tobacco and e-cig online banner/video advertising in the U.S. and Canada occurring online over the course of a full year.

These findings are consistent with trends in the popularity of new products, such as snus and electronic cigs, which are growing steadily in both the U.S. and overseas. Annual sales of smokeless tobacco products now exceed $2.93 billion globally and sales of e-cigs are continuing to grow—reaching $2 billion globally in 2011. Although advertising of cigarettes and little cigars on broadcast media has long been banned, online advertising has allowed the tobacco industry to promote products in a space that has broad reach and is largely unregulated. This may explain why Internet advertising expenditures for smokeless tobacco have increased in the U.S. significantly since 2006.

Key findings include:

  • Tobacco and e-cigarette advertisements were found on 180 out of the 250 websites that were monitored.
  • Snus ads appeared on a wide variety of websites covering many topics from news and health to job searches. E-cig ads predominantly appeared on websites focused on music and entertainment or news, subjects of high interest to young adults.
  • Compared to the other products advertised, e-cig ads were placed on websites with the highest average percentage of a youth audience, with some sites having a youth audience as high as 35%.
  • More than half of all the ads, when clicked, linked to another landing page, typically the company’s home page. None of those pages featured any information on how to quit smoking.
  • E-cig ads were most likely to feature themes of harm reduction; use as an aide to quit smoking; being more environmentally-friendly than cigarettes; or as an alternative to cigarettes when someone can’t smoke.

In a study published early this year in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Legacy monitored the advertisements of all noncombustible tobacco products, including e-cigs and snus, over a three-month period. During that time, roughly $20 million was spent on advertising. While cigarette advertising is prohibited on television, it is legal to use television to promote e-cigs.

A linked study by Legacy called “Vaporized: e-cigarettes, advertising, and youth” shows that all the advertising is working. Among the study’s most important findings are:

  • 89% of people aged 13 to 21 were aware of e-cigs;
  • More than 14% of young people aged 13 to 17 have smoked e-cigs;
  • More than 39% of young people aged 18 to 21 have smoked e-cigs;
  • 60% of teenagers aged 13 to 17 were aware of e-cig marketing on major channels;
  • The top 24 e-cig brands, the industry spent $39 million on advertising between June 2013 and November 2013; and
  • More than 73% of young people aged 12 to 17 were exposed to Blu advertisements, by far the industry’s biggest spender.

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