Exposure to e-cigarette advertisements may enhance curiosity and usage among young adults, according to a study published this week in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

Researchers at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative assessed more than 4,200 young adults (ages 18-34) and the impact of random assignment to exposure to e-cigarette advertisements on perceptions, intentions, and subsequent use. Approximately 6% of young adults who had never before tried an e-cigarette had done so at six month follow-up; ad exposure was associated with a greater likelihood of e-cigarette trial at follow-up (3.6% exposed vs. 1.2% unexposed) in never users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Ad exposure was also associated with greater curiosity to try an e-cigarette (18.3% vs. 11.3%) in the full sample.

Promotional expenditures for e-cigarettes across all media channels have rapidly increased since 2010. Since e-cigarettes are not subject to the same regulations as cigarette and smokeless tobacco products, e-cigarette manufacturers have been able to advertise their products via television, radio, and sponsorship of sporting and entertainment events. This increased and far-reaching advertising has occurred concurrently with increased availability of e-cigarettes in venues ranging from tobacco shops to pharmacies.

"Our study is the first randomized controlled study to show that forced exposure to e-cigarette advertising has an impact on longer-term e-cigarette trial in a small number of never users," said Andrea Villanti, lead author of the study. "These findings highlight the potential impact of unrestricted e-cigarette advertising to enhance curiosity and trial of e-cigarettes in young adults."