About 4 out of 5 of the TV ads seen by these young viewers were for blu eCigs, a brand that was purchased by tobacco giant Lorillard Inc. in April 2012. Though the ads are ostensibly aimed at adults, they employ language that makes e-cigarettes seem desirable to teens, researchers write in a study published Monday by the journal Pediatrics.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale nicotine vapor. The devices have generated billions of dollars in sales but remain extremely controversial. Advocates for e-cigarettes like that the vapor contains fewer toxins than the smoke from traditional cigarettes, and some studies suggest they can help smokers kick the habit. But public health advocates contend that e-cigarettes get young people hooked on nicotine, increasing the risk that they will become regular smokers. The devices also undermine efforts to make smoking seem taboo and may make it harder for smokers to quit by keeping them hooked on nicotine, they say.
Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced its intention to prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors, the agency has not taken steps to limit advertising aimed at kids. The authors of the new report wanted to quantify how often teens and young adults saw e-cigarette ads on TV.
To do, so they turned to data from Nielsen, the company that keeps track of what Americans are watching. The data reported in the study was in the form of “target rating points,” or TRPS, a measurement that combines the proportion of viewers exposed to an ad and the number of times it may be seen.
The researchers also calculated the exposure for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and found that it increased by 321% between 2011 and 2013. The TRPs for this group were high enough to allow half of these young adults to see 35 e-cigarette commercials, on average, over the course of a year.
The researchers also reported that 19 e-cigarette makers aired commercials in some local markets between 2011 and 2013. These ads aired in groups of cities that were home to as many as 40% of American teens.
The most widely aired blu eCig commercials featured actor Stephen Dorff. In one, he is seen smoking in restaurants, a taxi, a subway, at a rock concert, on a hike and even while riding his bike. In another, he ticks off the benefits of e-cigarettes versus traditional cigarettes and winds up by saying, "We're all adults here. It's time we take our freedom back."