Thursday, October 03, 2013

Anti-Smoking Advocates Attack Vuse Commercial for Attracting Former Smokers Back to Cigarettes

The Rest of the Story has obtained the password and a copy of a password-protected link to a new e-cigarette television commercial for R.J. Reynolds Vapor's innovative product - Vuse - which is being test-marketed in Colorado. The link and password circulated among anti-tobacco researchers and advocates after one of them violated an agreement with a news reporter to keep the information confidential. The anti-tobacco advocates had an email exchange roundly attacking the commercial, and two of them argued that this advertising will entice former smokers to return to cigarette smoking. The ad was called "cool" and "slick" and was compared to cigarette advertising.

The Rest of the Story

After receiving the link and password, and having read the attacks against the ad, I was fully expecting to view a commercial that glamorized cigarette smoking and promoted cigarette use through the guise of pretending to want people to use electronic cigarettes.

Instead, what I found was quite the opposite: a commercial that actually advocated the idea of getting rid of conventional cigarettes and replacing them with a much safer product that contains no tobacco. 

The commercial focused on the idea of innovation. Specifically, the innovation it talked about was the transformation of the entire cigarette market: a transformation from deadly cigarettes to these much safer electronic ones. The campaign is backed by print materials that focus on the idea of reducing the harm caused by smoking by getting smokers to use electronic cigarettes instead of conventional ones.

Nowhere in the ad or the campaign is there any suggestion that the intention is to promote dual use of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, and nowhere in the ad or the campaign is there any suggestion that the product is aimed at recruiting youth or adult nonsmokers.

Frankly, I was shocked to see a cigarette company make the clear admission that its products are harmful and that it would advance the public's health to promote the idea of smokers switching to a non-tobacco, non-combustion product that is orders of magnitude safer. I was especially shocked after reading the vicious criticism of the commercial and the claims that it would attract youth as well as former smokers to start smoking. If this commercial was a veiled attempt to attract nonsmokers or former smokers to cigarette smoking, it was a miserable failure.

I thought the commercial could have been more effective only if it explicitly promoted smoking cessation. However, RJR Vapor is clearly not going to make such a claim because of the danger of the FDA interpreting that as a drug claim and pulling the product off the market on that ground. As I've argued previously, the FDA deeming regulations need to make it clear that the FDA will allow smoking cessation claims that are not based on treatment of nicotine dependence and will not treat such claims as therapeutic claims. This would go a long way toward helping ensure that e-cigarette advertising does not in any way promote cigarette smoking or the use of e-cigarettes by nonsmokers.

Recently, I have heard a lot of arguments by anti-smoking advocates that e-cigarette advertising glamorizes and promotes smoking. The problem is that these ads are not selling cigarettes. They are selling e-cigarettes. What they glamorize is not smoking, but vaping. These arguments make absolutely no sense.

Incidentally, the commercial did not depict the act of smoking or even vaping. It focused on the product, the technology, the taste, the innovation, and the transformation of the market.

The final aspect of this story is the tactics being used. Regardless of the worthiness of our cause, I don't believe that as health professionals, we should act in a dishonest way. There was a violation of the agreement made with the reporter. The private, password-protected site was shared with 21 tobacco control advocates, including several government officials. The commercial was eventually released publicly, but this unauthorized distribution of the spot preceded its public release.

It is difficult to imagine what more RJR Vapor could have done to target this commercial to adult smokers. The spot makes it very clear that the product is for smokers. It talks about transforming the cigarette market by shifting to electronic cigarettes. It seems to me that this is something that we should be applauding, rather than attacking.

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