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Ads for E-Cigarettes Boost Tobacco Cravings

Aggressive Online Marketing of E-cigarettes May Target Teens

Use of electronic cigarettes is on the upswing because they are considered safer and more socially acceptable than regular cigarettes, and because there are fewer restrictions on their purchase and use.

A study by University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers, suggests aggressive online marketing tactics also make purchasing e-cigarettes easy for all ages.

Study findings appear in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“We found e-cigarette vendors were highly engaged in promoting the culture of ‘vaping’ online, including posting images to Instagram, a social media site used by 52 percent of teens,” said Tim K. Mackey, Ph.D., an assistant professor of anesthesiology and global public health and first author of the study.

“Despite the fact that 47 states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, the results highlight the potential of the Internet to encourage e-cigarette initiation and underage purchasing. This is particularly concerning given that the FDA does not have specific proposed regulations for online e-cigarette sales.”

Researchers say that data from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that e-cigarette use tripled among middle and high school students from 2013 to 2014.

E-cigarettes are tobacco-less, battery-operated devices that spritz vapor into the mouth with flavors like bubble gum and peach fuzz. Users of these devices, known colloquially as “vapers,” exhale a mixture of volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that usually contain aerosolized nicotine in a cloud of vapor.

Researchers found that 68 percent of the 57 online e-cigarette vendors they studied displayed one or more health warnings about the devices on their website. However, the notices were often depicted in smaller fonts or placed discretely in the terms and conditions section of a website.

One-third of the vendors had no detectable age verification process for buyers and of those that did, most required only a simple click to say the buyer was within the legal age limit.

Industry analysts estimate that online sales comprise 25 to 30 percent of the $2 billion annual e-cigarette market, which may account for a high presence of vendors on social media, said Mackey, who is also associate director of the joint master’s degree in Health Policy and Law.

“The study found that online e-cigarette vendors use a variety of sophisticated and aggressive marketing practices, including promotional offers and high social media engagement to promote the sale of their products,” said Mackey.

Mackey and team reported that 70 percent of the online vendors used more than one of the three most commonly used social media platforms: 63 percent used Twitter, 52 percent posted to Facebook, and 42 percent were on Instagram.

The researchers said the findings could impact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2014 proposed regulations of e-cigarette use, sale, marketing, and manufacturing to include online monitoring of the laws.

Source: University of California, San Diego

Aggressive Online Marketing of E-cigarettes May Target Teens

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Aggressive Online Marketing of E-cigarettes May Target Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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