Tobacco companies face tough restrictions when it comes to marketing cigarettes. Advertising for e-cigarettes, on the other hand, faces no such regulations. At least not yet.
Not surprisingly, e-cigarette advertising spending in the U.S. tripled in one year, according to a study by RTI International. The researchers found ad spending went from $6.4 million in 2011 to $18.3 million in 2012.
“E-cigarette advertising expenditures are focusing heavily on national markets and TV ads, which will likely increase consumer awareness and use of e-cigarettes,” said Annice Kim, Ph.D., senior social scientist at RTI and co-author of the study.
Most of the ad spending was for television and magazines. Newspapers and the Internet received the lowest share.
At the moment, e-cigarettes fall into a regulatory gray area. A federal court has ruled that they are tobacco products, even though they contain no tobacco.
But while cigarettes are barred from television and radio advertising, and face other restrictions, e-cigarettes remain unregulated, even though the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly drafting proposed rules.
Many former smokers praise e-cigarettes as a means to quit. They say e-cigarettes provide many of the pleasures of smoking, with nicotine delivered through water vapor that can be inhaled.
While e-cigarettes lack many of the toxins found in tobacco smoke, some health advocates worry that e-cigarettes could have some negative health effects that aren't yet known. Meanwhile, they are being heavily advertised.
“Our results suggest that federal-level efforts are needed to track e-cigarette advertising, as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not currently require companies to report e-cigarette ad expenditures,” Kim said. “Tobacco companies are required to report their ad expenditures annually to the FTC, but there are no comparable reporting requirements for e-cigarette companies because e-cigarettes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”
Eleven members of Congress released their own report this week, not only showing a spike in e-cigarette advertising but claiming the marketing efforts are aimed at young people.
“For years, federal regulations prohibiting tobacco companies from targeting young people have helped to protect a new generation of smokers from getting hooked on nicotine,” said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). “Now, we must close this new gateway to addiction to protect our children.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), said he sees parallels between past cigarette marketing and e-cigarette marketing.
“E-cigarette makers are starting to prey on kids, just like the big tobacco companies,” Waxman said. “With over a million youth now using e-cigarettes, FDA needs to act without further delay to stop the companies from marketing their addictive products to children.”
States taking action
Some states have not waited for the federal government to draft rules governing e-cigarettes. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear this week signed legislation that outlaws the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
The law addresses concerns that young people will be lured into using e-cigarettes and, as a result, will become addicted to nicotine. E-cigarette makers, meanwhile, are trying not to be seen as promoting use by young consumers.
One of the main cheerleaders for the new Kentucky law was Lorrilard, a major tobacco firm and parent company of the Blu e-cigarette brand.
"Legislation that prevents the sale or distribution of electronic cigarettes to minors is the right thing to do," said Murray Kessler, Lorillard's chairman and CEO, who attended the bill signing.
Kessler said Lorillard has actively supported age of purchase legislation in other states and encourages states that have not passed similar legislation to do so.
Concerns about cigarette marketing
A new study by Dartmouth researchers, meanwhile, raises new concerns about young people's exposure to advertising for traditional cigarettes. This exposure, the study argues, leads to increased use of tobacco.
“For several years, the emphasis in the tobacco industry has been on direct marketing, especially to young people who are highly price sensitive and who may find coupons, samples, and promotions appealing,” said Samir Soneji, a Dartmouth professor and lead author of the study.
The research team said it found exposure to tobacco coupons and websites increased the chances that a young person would start to smoke. Direct marketing includes coupons and ads sent through the mail or posted on the web, as well as in-store displays and signs.
In 2010, the tobacco industry spent $236 million in cigarette coupons and $22 million in Internet marketing, the study found.
Internet marketing proved particularly effective as some of it made its way to social media, widely used by teens and young adults.
Tobacco companies face tough restrictions when it comes to marketing cigarettes. Advertising e-cigarettes, on the other hand, face no such regulations. At ...