Advertisements for electronic cigarettes are seen by around 70% of middle and high school students in stores, online, in newspapers and magazines or on television and in movies, says a new report published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Vital Signs.

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Independence and rebellion: e-cigarette adverts echo conventional themes to encourage teen smoking.

Advertising strategies include many of the themes traditionally used in cigarette and conventional tobacco product sales: independence, rebellion and sex.

E-cigarettes and conventional tobacco products entail similar risks: a higher chance of heart disease, stroke and early death; at a young age, they can affect brain development. Both products also promote addiction and can lead to sustained tobacco use.

Advertising of tobacco products has been proven to promote tobacco use among young people. There are concerns now that decades of progress in preventing tobacco use among youths could be reversed as a result of the unrestricted marketing of e-cigarettes and dramatic rise in their use.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explains, “The same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice a new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes.”

Dr. Frieden calls on everyone to agree that children should not use e-cigarettes.

In 2014, e-cigarettes became the most commonly used tobacco product among young people, more commonly used than conventional cigarettes.

From 2011-14, e-cigarette use among high school students rose from 1.5% to 13.4%, and among middle school students it increased from 0.6% to 3.9%. At the same time, spending on e-cigarette advertising rose from $6.4 million in 2011 to an estimated $115 million in 2014.

Data from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) show that 68.9% of middle and high school students see e-cigarette ads from one or more media sources.

The adverts are seen in retail stores by 54.8% of young people; 39.8% of youth see them online; 36.5% see advertisements on TV or at the movies and 30.4% see e-cigarettes advertised in newspapers and magazines. Some 15% of all students see the advertisements from all four sources: retail stores, the Internet, TV/movies and magazines/newspapers.

To prevent the use of e-cigarettes, a number of strategies are proposed:

  • Limiting tobacco product sales to facilities not frequented by youths
  • Reducing the number of stores that sell tobacco and their proximity to schools
  • Restricting e-cigarettes sales to face-to-face transactions, not through the Internet
  • Requiring age verification to enter websites selling e-cigarettes, to make purchases and to accept deliveries of e-cigarettes.

Dr. Corinne Graffunder, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, calls on states and communities to fund tobacco prevention and control programs to help reduce youth tobacco use by raising awareness of the different tobacco products available, including e-cigarettes.

Dr. Graffunder points out that since we already know how to reduce youth tobacco use, we should be investing in these strategies in order to reduce the “staggering” effect of tobacco on families and communities.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of certain tobacco products.

FDA intentions to regulate e-cigarettes and other currently unregulated tobacco products as part of this Act are currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget.

Commenting on the report, the American Heart Association (AHA) support the call for tighter regulations to protect the susceptible youth audience and for lessons learned in the past regarding tobacco use to be applied to e-cigarettes.

The organization says:

It is unacceptable that e-cigarette advertising remains unrestricted. More and more money is being poured into targeting kids at every turn. As the report shows, kids are encountering these ads virtually everywhere: in stores, online, in newspapers and magazines, and on television and in movies. And the sad truth is, it’s working. The 2014 NYTS survey revealed e-cigarette use has tripled among US teens.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study linking e-cigarettes with cancer-related cell damage.