If you’ve been following our blog, you may have read several blog posts over the past few months on electronic cigarettes (more commonly known as e-cigarettes). These e-cigarettes are in the middle of a long-standing debate between tobacco companies and public health advocates. Do these e-cigarettes offer a less dangerous alternative to using combustible cigarettes or is there insufficient evidence to state these as a tool to help smokers quit? Or are they another way to get nonsmokers addicted to nicotine?
To add fuel to the debate, a subsidiary of Reynolds American announced June 23 that it will start distributing its Vuse e-cigarettes nationwide. NuMark, a subsidiary of Altria, also plans to distribute MarkTen, its e-cigarette brand, nationwide by the end of 2014. Lorillard already distributes its Blu eCigs nationwide and is currently the nation’s dominant e-cigarette brand.
So what does this mean? We’ll definitely see additional television advertisements. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Vuse and MarkTen take on a similar message as Blu – glamorizing smoking and potentially leading non-smokers to begin using e-cigarettes. The tag line for MarkTen’s new ads is “Let it Glow” which is oddly similar to a current Disney hit “Frozen” and it’s hit song “Let It Go.” But I’m sure they are marketing the e-cigarette to all of those parents who have endured listening to that movie and song on repeat, not their children.
This concern on whether the ads appeal to children sparked a Senate hearing on June 18 where Senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee grilled the CEOs of Blu eCigs and NJOY on their marketing practices, particularly how they appeal directly to kids. Both sides agreed that e-cigarettes should not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. However, the big problem is a recent CDC report showed that the use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012. Additionally, more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide have tried e-cigarettes. A recent American Legacy Foundation report indicated 14 million children saw ads for electronic cigarettes on TV, and 9.5 million saw them in print (but they’re not being targeted, right?).
I think Senator Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) described Big Tobacco’s motive perfectly when he said, “I think we have seen this movie before. It is called big nicotine comes to children near you and you are using the same kinds of tactics and promotions, and ads that were used by big tobacco and proved so effective.”
What does all of this mean for public health advocates? The FDA recently proposed guidelines for regulating e-cigarettes, but these guidelines did not include any restrictions on marketing. With the recent reports from CDC and American Legacy Foundation and with more big tobacco companies marketing their e-cigarette products nationwide, I wouldn’t be surprised if FDA restricts e-cigarette marketing in the near future.