Marketing tricks e-cigarette companies think we’re too dumb to notice
“Take Back Your Freedom.”
This new slogan from e-cigarette manufacturer, blu eCigs®, uses a message of freedom or independence that may be very appealing to youth. Along with kid-friendly flavors, celebrity endorsements and TV ads, e-cigarette companies are marketing their products to teens in similar ways as Big Tobacco companies did in the past.
Is the use of e-cigarettes really “taking back freedom” or essentially robbing the next generation’s freedom from nicotine addiction? New York City Councilman Costa Constantinides asked a similar question when proposing a recent bill to limit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, arguing that they are directly marketed towards youth. Numerous studies validate Councilman’s Constantinides argument; adolescents and young adults prefer flavored tobacco products. Each month nearly 242 new e-cigarette flavors are added to store shelves for a total of more than 7,700 flavors. These flavors come with enticing names like cherry crush, java jolt and creamy milk chocolate, making e-cigarettes and marketing them to teens a fast growing problem.
Health Consequences of Teen E-Cigarette Use
CASAColumbia agrees that marketing e-cigarettes to children and adolescents must stop. Whether electronic or wrapped with tobacco leaves, cigarettes contain nicotine—a highly addictive drug that can alter brain development and functioning in adolescents. Compared to adults, the adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine dependence; and nicotine dependence can be costly both financially and medically. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aware of adolescent susceptibility and has reported that adolescent nicotine use can cause long-term disruption in cognitive functions. Adolescent nicotine use also increases the risk of addiction to other substances, and is associated with problems with impulsivity and attention.
Research also shows that the use of e-cigarettes among adolescents increases the likelihood of other tobacco use. A recent study reported that adolescents who used e-cigarettes were more likely than cigarette smokers to concurrently use other tobacco products like hookah or blunts. These findings illuminate how an increase in targeted e-cigarette marketing—especially the promotion of flavored e-cigarettes—can reverse the anti-tobacco successes from the last 20 years.
Growing Popularity among Adolescents
A 2012 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that 10% of high school students had used an e-cigarette, and a 2013 study found that nearly 1 in 5 male adolescents were willing to try an e-cigarette, reflecting e-cigarettes’ increasing popularity. Regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as cigarettes should be a top priority. The first step would be to limit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, as Councilman Constantinides has proposed, so that the youth, not e-cigarette companies, will have freedom over their future.
Adetutu Adekoya, MA
Adetutu Adekoya is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia