Controversy Over Electronic Cigarette Advertising

In the United States, there are now laws in place that prevent tobacco cigarette companies from marketing their products directly to children. As electronic cigarette products are only now beginning to become very popular, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to regulate the sale of vapor pens; however, in April 2014, the FDA did release a set of proposed regulations that are currently being debated.

Because e-cig products have been shown in some studies not to be as harmful as tobacco, the proposed regulations on hookah pen and ecig products are not as strict as those in place on cigarettes. The FDA’s statement made no mention of placing any restriction on how vapor pen products are marketed, much to the dismay of some anti-tobacco groups.

Statements from the Vapor Pen Industry

Nearly every time that discussions regarding electronic cigarette use are publicized in the news, representatives of the e-cig industry go on record saying that they support moves by the government to help prevent underage use of vapor pens. Ecig manufacturers frequently state that they do not intend for their products to be used by minors and that they do not actively market to people under the age of 18.

Ads Attract Negative Attention

Anti-smoking groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids takes issue with the electronic cigarette industry’s claims that they do not market to children. In the past, this group and others like it have criticized ecig manufacturers’ advertisements, accusing the companies of marketing to teens.

One ad that drew a large amount of negative attention was an ad for the Blu E-cig that appeared in the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The ad featured a close-up shot of a woman in a tiny bikini bottom that bore the Blue Electronic Cigarettes brand name. Below the ad was the message “Slim Charged Ready to Go.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stated that the ad was designed to appeal to teenagers and that it spread the message that using an electronic cigarette was cool, sexy and fun. The makers of the Bluvapor pen vape responded that the ad was not directed at teenagers but for “smokers of legal age.”

Those who disagree with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ position argue that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue isn’t really intended for children. Although teens can purchase it, the magazine is really meant to be viewed by adults due to the objectifying images of women that it contains. As a result, Blu’s ad wouldn’t be directed at teens any more than the rest of the magazine is.

Debates like these are sure to continue as both the electronic cigarette industry and anti-tobacco groups await the final decision regarding ecig regulations to be announced by the FDA. At this time, it doesn’t appear that there will be anything preventing e-cig companies from running ads like the controversial Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue ad in the future, but nothing will be definitive until the FDA’s decision is finalized.