(RxWiki News) In 1998, significant restrictions were placed on advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the United States. However, e-cigarette ads seem to be appearing in strength across many media channels, including TV, radio, the internet and in print.
Researchers recently found that adults are being exposed to e-cigarette marketing through the media, and that such marketing may target particular social groups differently.
According to these researchers, the marketing and promotion of e-cigarettes through the media has significantly contributed to the rise in awareness and popularity of their use.
Current tobacco users may view e-cigarette products as viable smoking cessation aids, while non-smokers may feel the craving to start smoking, the researchers wrote.
"Seek advice from a medical professional to quit smoking."
Adults are being exposed to e-cigarette marketing through the media, but the ads are reaching out to different social groups in different ways, according to this new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In a press statement, Dr. Sherry Emery, senior research scientist at the UIC Institute of Health Research and Policy and lead author of this study, said, “These findings may have implications for e-cigarette marketing regulation.”
Dr. Emery and colleagues found that of the 17,522 study participants who were questioned in a 2013 online survey, 86 percent knew about e-cigarettes. Of those who knew about e-cigarettes, 47 percent had seen or heard ads for vaping (the act of using an e-cigarette) on TV, radio, print ads or online.
The study’s authors wrote these findings are significant "given how recently these products have entered the market and the fact that less than 20 percent of the US population was aware of them 5 years ago.”
Of the various media outlets, TV was the most common medium. Nearly two thirds of study participants reported that they saw ads for e-cigs on TV. Other popular locations for e-cig advertising were through internet banner ads (14 percent), emails (13 percent), internet search engines (11 percent) and Facebook (9 percent).
According to the researchers, "There is evidence that rates of e-cigarette use and awareness also are increasing rapidly.”
Slight contact with e-cigarette ads, and getting information about vaping without looking for it, was more common for current tobacco users, young adults, males, participants with more than a high school education and those who use social media sites and spend a lot of time online.
Overall, the researchers identified key social differences in how the study participants searched and shared e-cigarette material online.
Study participants reported that they had shared information about e-cigarettes via Facebook, texting, emails and through Twitter. A total of 54 percent of all participants stated that they had shared e-cigarette information by word-of-mouth.
In addition, current tobacco users were five times more likely than non-tobacco users to report sharing info about e-cigarettes and vaping, and young adults were nearly twice as likely as other study participants to have shared e-cigarette info.
Current e-cigarette users were more likely than non-users to search for information about vaping and e-cigarettes on Facebook and Twitter, and they were also more likely than non-users to share such information by word-of-mouth and on their personal social media pages. Latinos and lesbian, gay or bisexual persons were also more likely than others to share e-cigarette information.
According to the study’s authors, “While a few studies have assessed overall awareness about e-cigarettes, this is the first to characterize levels of exposure to, searching for and sharing of e-cigarette related information across media and other communications channels.”
This study’s results showed that social media was an important piece of e-cigarette promotion.
“While we cannot tell from this cross-sectional work whether the differences in e-cig media consumption reflect targeted marketing, self-selection, or a combination of the two, this work suggests that closer scrutiny of e-cig marketing practices is warranted,” Dr. Emery said.
The researchers noted several study limitations, primarily with the study’s design, which did not allow specific documentation of trends or behavioral changes over a period of time. Secondly, the data were collected by self-report, which could mean that the figures were not entirely accurate based upon study participants' memory.
Lastly, the researchers stated that their findings showed a low rate of searching and sharing of e-cig marketing information; "however," they wrote, "the expected frequency of searching for or sharing any given topic on a specified day is likely to be low.”
This study was published online in June in Tobacco Control.
The study was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute. The researchers did not disclose any conflicts of interest.