In past posts, I’ve discussed the frustrating genius that is Blu’s “take back your freedom” approach to some of its advertising. I’m less than impressed, however, with the sex sells tactics that dominate a second line of ads. But not (only) for the reasons you may think. Working on smokeless tobacco issues over the past year, I’ve become increasingly aware of the delicacy with which we must communicate about products that, while not harmless, may be less risky alternatives for current smokers.
The same harm-reduction tension dominates the e-cigarettes debate. Whether e-cigs are a cessation tool or a catalyst for new users to start a habit of smoking is hotly contested. Earlier this week, the New York Times explored both sides of the debate.
On one hand opponents argue e-cigs could be a gateway to traditional cigarettes among young people and non-smokers, with e-cigs offering flavored options and appearing on television and in other outlets where traditional smoking advertising isn’t permitted. On the other hand, those in the opposite camp argue that e-cigs offer a method to reduce the harm of traditional cigarettes, which pose the greatest public health risk.
The message from companies like Lorillard (the tobacco giant that purchased Blu), however, make it difficult not to be skeptical. Though the freedom-focused ads target current smokers, ads like the one shown here clearly aim to influence a wider audience. It makes me wonder how this fits in to what has historically proven to be a carefully executed Big Tobacco marketing strategy. If e-cig companies weren’t casting such a wide net with their advertising, would the public health urgency that seems to be mounting around e-cigs be as intense?
That’s a question that will go unanswered, but many others surrounding e-cigs hopefully will begin coming to light sooner rather than later as science catches up to the popularity of the devices. While the evidence is currently too sparse to definitively choose sides, one thing is clear – it’s a topic worth discussing. We look forward to joining the conversation on e-cigarettes (and many more issues!) at the Reduce Tobacco Use Conference in April. We hope you’ll join us!