Perhaps the most critical argument of anti-vaping advocates is that the promotion of electronic cigarette use will renormalize smoking. Presumably, anti-vaping advocates believe that by depicting the physical act of what "looks like" smoking in a glamorous way, electronic cigarette advertisements will promote smoking, reversing tremendous societal progress in reducing smoking rates.
I have previously explained why this argument is absurd on its face. But today, I share experimental evidence from a recent study which suggests that e-cigarette advertising does not increase the appeal of smoking among youth. Instead, as I have argued, e-cigarette advertising may increase interest in trying electronic cigarettes.
An experimental study presented at the 2015 annual conference of the European Society for Prevention Research examined the impact of exposure to electronic cigarette advertisements on attitudes towards smoking among 471 nonsmoking English children ages 11-16. The children were subjected to either advertisements for flavored electronic cigarettes, advertisements for non-flavored electronic cigarettes, or no advertisements. Then, the researchers measured the respondents' reported level of the appeal of smoking.
The major study finding was that neither the flavored nor non-flavored e-cigarette advertisements affected the appeal of smoking to youth. This includes advertisements for e-cigarettes with candy flavors like bubble gum or chocolate. Instead, the study found that flavored e-cigarette advertisements affect youths' interest in trying and buying electronic cigarettes.
Importantly, the study also found no effect of exposure to e-cigarette advertisements on smoking susceptibility or the perceived harm of cigarettes.
The study concluded that: "Exposure to adverts for e-cigarettes does not seem to increase the appeal of tobacco smoking in children."
The Rest of the Story
This study provides experimental evidence to support my previous argument, based on basic marketing principles, that e-cigarette advertising will promote the use of e-cigarettes, not the use of tobacco cigarettes. In this study, youth exposure to e-cigarette advertisements was not more likely to result in smoking appeal or smoking susceptibility among youth. Nor did it undermine youth's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking.
The findings of this study make perfect sense from a marketing perspective. Advertising for a product that is being marketed as a more appealing alternative to a different product is going to increase the appeal of that product, not the inferior product. It also makes sense that e-cigarette advertising does not undermine youth's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking. If anything, one might expect that e-cigarette marketing helps to reinforce the public's understanding of the hazards of smoking, since e-cigarettes are being presented as a favorable alternative to cigarettes.
In contrast, the deceptive, misleading, and false statements being made by anti-nicotine groups to demonize e-cigarettes are helping to renormalize smoking because they truly do undermine the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking by equating those hazards with using a non-tobacco, non-combusted product.
You can read the Daily Caller's summary of this study here.