Seventy percent of US teens are exposed to e-cig advertising, and the advertising is working, with e-cigarettes becoming more popular than traditional cigarettes among teenagers. And, unfortunately, once a teen becomes an e-cig user, they are 23% more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes.
Why are e-cigarettes gaining such popularity?
E-cigs have been branded as a modern, safer alternative to smoking. E-cigarette companies trick teens into focusing on the high-tech aspects of vaping – something they’ve learned to crave in the era of smartphones and the cloud. When a teen vapes, they are trading the tar and carbon monoxide of traditional cigarettes, for a much more concentrated dose of nicotine. The delivery is specially flavored to provide a smooth, refined taste. Sadly, just because something is less harsh to the taste does not mean it’s safer. There are a ton of additives and unregulated chemicals mixed into vaping cartridges. Nicotine is highly addictive, driving increased e-cig use due to chemical dependency. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s having a massive impact on the male population – 2 in 3 teen e-cig users are males.
How do we combat this e-cig health crisis?
Thankfully, just as e-cig companies are rolling out increasingly advanced e-cigarettes and vaping kits, technologists are working hard to create online addiction treatment programs. It really is like fighting an arms race during a time of war – as one side rolls out new technology, the other side figures out a way to compensate. Another weapon that health-conscious companies are deploying are bans on vape advertisements. Almost every popular website has made the decision to block paid e-cigarette advertising from appearing on their site. To fight against these bans and attacks from online treatment programs, vaping companies have to heavily deploy search engine marketing strategies. There’s evidence that vaping companies are targeting search terms and other online ad triggers that would normally lead an internet user to an addiction treatment program. This means that people looking for help with an addiction to nicotine are sometimes led to websites that offer e-cigarettes as a supposed treatment for cigarette smokers looking to break unhealthy habits. Thankfully, internet powerhouses like Google are helping to stop these practices. Since 2009, e-cig vendors have complained that Google has refused to run their advertising. Having the leading online advertising giant come out against vaping is a huge win. But we need to be increasingly vigilant as e-cig vendors become more and more nefarious in their efforts to advertise to an underage and vulnerable audience.
Government Health Policies are Evolving
In August of 2016, the FDA issued a final ruling on how e-cigarettes and vaping products are regulated. In addition to local and state government regulations, the federal government has mandated that all smokeless cigarette products containing nicotine will be regulated and taxed in the same manner as traditional cigarettes. The FDA also gained the authority to deem new vaping products as cigarettes – subjecting them to the same rules and regulations on a case-by-case basis. This helps to future-proof the ruling and compensate for many of the tricks that e-cig manufacturers may try to pull in order to circumvent the ruling. It’s important to understand that the struggle to combat vaping and the associated addiction to nicotine – or whatever else teens choose to experiment with in their e-cig – is far from over. We’ve made great strides in the past few years to positively impact public policy. And many large corporations are doing their civic duty to try and curtail vape advertisements reaching underage audiences. But, despite the battles won, the war is not going our way. Teen vape usage is skyrocketing because vaping vendors have been able to position themselves as the high-tech, cool alternative to cigarettes. Unfortunately, as the data has shown, once teens start vaping, many begin smoking more dangerous forms of nicotine, or other illicit drugs. We need to keep the pressure on by talking with teenagers about the hidden dangers of vaping. And we shouldn’t position vaping as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. There simply isn’t enough evidence to make that claim.