Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Anti-Smoking Groups and Politicians are Way Off the Mark in Accusing Altria and Reynolds American of Targeting Children with their E-Cigarettes

In recent months, a host of anti-smoking groups as well as several leading politicians in Congress and at the state level have attacked the Big Tobacco companies - including Reynolds American and Altria - for targeting their electronic cigarette products to children.

While it may sound like a great sound bite, it fits the mantra of tobacco control, and it may be consistent with historical practices of these tobacco companies in marketing cigarettes to youth, there is much more here than meets the eye. As much as the anti-smoking groups might like, things are not that simple.

Specifically, this claim by anti-smoking groups and politicians is demonstrably false. And by continuing to make this false accusation, it detracts from the anti-smoking groups' legitimate complaints against a small number of e-cigarette companies that do appear to be crossing the line.

The Rest of the Story

In their complaints, the anti-smoking groups and politicians have specified the ways in which e-cigarette companies are targeting kids. First, according to these groups, the use of candy and fruit-flavored products is a sure sign of youth targeting. Second, selling their products over the internet is an attempt to recruit youth customers, since it is much easier for underage customers to purchase over the internet than to purchase in face-to-face sales in brick-and-mortar facilities. Third, electronic cigarette companies are targeting kids by offering disposable products at cheap prices.

Let's now examine Reynolds American's e-cigarette product (Vuse) and Altria's product (Nu Mark) to see how they fare on each of these youth targeting criteria:

Candy and fruit flavors: None. Only tobacco and menthol.
Internet sales:  None. Only available in retail stores.
Disposable products: None. Only available in more expensive, rechargeable sets.

Candy and fruit flavors: None. Only tobacco and menthol.
Internet sales:  None. Only available in retail stores.
Disposable products: None. Only available in more expensive, rechargeable sets.

Not only is there a lack of evidence that Vuse and Nu Mark are not targeting youth, but there is very strong evidence that these products are not targeting youth. 

Nevertheless, I am not aware of any mainstream tobacco control group which has so much as acknowledged that Vuse and Nu Mark are indeed being responsibly marketed toward adult smokers. 

My readers know that I can certainly dish out criticism when it is warranted. But at the same time, I feel it is important to be discriminating, and to withhold criticism unless it is warranted and backed up by adequate evidence. 

Unfortunately, the anti-smoking groups and politicians seems incapable of such discrimination. Everything is black and white, and there is no need to actually examine the scientific evidence. 

Except that the rest of the story is that for Vuse and Nu Mark, it isn't black and white. It's exclusively classic tobacco and menthol.

Disclosure: I have not received any funding or compensation from the tobacco, electronic cigarette, or pharmaceutical industries. However, I am seeking funding from several electronic cigarette companies to conduct a behavioral study on the effects of electronic cigarettes on smoking behavior.

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