A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that the exposure of electronic cigarette advertising on television to young adults (ages 18-24) rose by 321% over a 2-year period, between 2011 and 2013.
The study also states that the exposure of young people (ages 12-17) to this advertising increased greatly, by 256% over the same period. This was the first time that the extent of exposure to electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) television advertising has been studied.
The majority of this exposure (76%) occurred across popular cable networks, including Comedy Central and VH1, and on some of the highest-rated youth programs for the 2012-2013 TV season, such as "Big Brother" and "Survivor."
While the advertising of conventional cigarettes was banned from American television and radio in 1970, there are currently no such restrictions on advertising e-cigarettes. In general, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate e-cigarette marketing unless it is advertised as a smoking cessation aid.
E-cigarettes are manufactured as an alternative for tobacco smokers who wish to avoid inhaling smoke and the health risks that are associated with it - tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the US and is linked to cancer and heart disease. They are battery-powered devices that release doses of water vapor, which may or may not contain nicotine.
There are concerns from some organizations that e-cigarettes are not without their own risks. In 2012, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested e-cigarettes significantly increased airway resistance in both non-smokers and regular smokers alike.
More recently, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the number of phone calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine had increased, from one call per month in 2010 to 215 calls per month in 2014.
Could e-cigarette ads influence young people to use devices?
These concerns were at the forefront of the study in Pediatrics, with Jennifer Duke, Ph.D., co-author of the study, commenting that, "in the absence of evidence-based public health messages regarding the health risks of e-cigarettes, television advertising is promoting beliefs and behaviors that pose harm to youth and young adults and raise public health concerns."
Researchers found that e-cigarette advertising on television to young adults increased by 321% between 2011 and 2013.
The worry is that this advertising could contribute to how popular the devices are with young adults and young people alike. E-cigarettes are available in a variety of flavors unlike conventional cigarettes, which could make them more appealing to these age groups.
Another CDC study from 2012 highlighted the popularity of e-cigarettes, reporting that an estimated 1.8 million middle and high school students had used these devices.
On top of that, almost 10% of students who had used e-cigarettes had never used traditional cigarettes. However, a study analyzing data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey was inconclusive as to whether adolescent e-cigarette usage led to conventional cigarette usage.
Other studies have been more positive in their evaluation of e-cigarettes. An earlier study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL) in the UK reported that 20% of those who tried to quit smoking by using e-cigarettes were successful in ceasing to smoke conventional cigarettes, compared with 10% of those using nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum, and 15.4% of those who attempted to quit without help.
As can be seen by these varying viewpoints, there is still a lot of uncertainty with regard to e-cigarettes. The FDA are now planning on regulating the sales, manufacturing and distribution of e-cigarettes, measures that should ultimately work to appease those who consider the devices to be a health risk to young adults and young people.
Written by James McIntosh