Television ads for e-cigarettes increase the urge by current and former smokers to reach for a cigarette, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication recruited more than 800 daily, intermittent, and former smokers who watched e-cigarette advertising, and then took a survey to determine smoking urges, intentions, and behaviors.
Using a standard test to measure the urge to smoke a cigarette, people who smoke tobacco cigarettes daily and who watched e-cigarette advertisements with someone inhaling or holding an e-cigarette — known as vaping — showed a greater urge to smoke than regular smokers who did not see the vaping, according to the study’s findings.
Additionally, former smokers who watched e-cigarette advertisements with vaping had less confidence that they could keep from smoking tobacco cigarettes than former smokers seeing e-cigarette ads without vaping.
The findings are significant, according to the researchers, who note that tobacco advertising was banned on television four decades ago.
The big tobacco companies are banking on the e-cigarette advertising paying off, with estimates that more than one billion dollars will be spent on that advertising this year. That number is expected to grow 50 percent each year over the next four years.
“We know that exposure to smoking cues such as visual depictions of cigarettes, ashtrays, matches, lighters, and smoke heightens smokers’ urge to smoke a cigarette, and decreases former smokers’ confidence in their ability to refrain from smoking a cigarette,” said Dr. Erin K. Maloney.
“Because many e-cigarette brands that have a budget to advertise on television are visually similar to tobacco cigarettes, we wanted to see if similar effects can be attributed to e-cigarette advertising.”
Maloney and her co-researcher Dr. Joseph Cappella collected more than a dozen e-cigarette advertisements from searches of Google, YouTube, and e-cigarette websites.
For their experiment, they created three sets of conditions: Participants watched only the advertisements; they watched the advertisements with only the audio (the visuals were replaced by scrolling text of the advertisement); or they answered a series of unrelated media use questions that took approximately the same amount of time it would take to view the advertisements.
The researchers found that more than 35 percent of the daily smokers who saw the vaping reported having a tobacco cigarette during the study versus 22 percent of daily smokers who saw ads without vaping, and about 23 percent of daily smokers who did not see any advertising.
“Given the sophistication of cigarette marketing in the past and the exponential increase in advertising dollars allotted to e-cigarette promotion in the past year, it should be expected that advertisements for these products created by big tobacco companies will maximize smoking cues in their advertisements, and if not regulated, individuals will be exposed to much more e-cigarette advertising on a daily basis,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Health Communication.