18 Million Youngsters See E-Cigarette Ads Which Worries the CDC

By Hank Campbell — Jan 13, 2016
Over 18 million young people 68.9 percent of middle and high school students see some form of e-cigarette advertising, according to the CDC. The agency is worried about e-cig use in teens, and officials there are right in their concern. But is it an advertising-created phenomenon?

Over 18 million young people, 68.9 percent of middle and high school students, see some form of e-cigarette advertising, according to a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report based on self-reported surveys.

And that worries them.

Should it? It depends. Kids are rebellious, that is why so many marketers cater to that theme, and e-cigarettes are certainly a fad for some because they are counter-culture, but CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden is framing the issue inaccurately when he says, The same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice a new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes.

What industry isn't compared to Big Tobacco when someone happens not to like it? It is emotional verbiage at this point, so it doesn't even need evidence to get a reaction, but the head of the CDC should be above that. And where is this Big E-Cigarette industry? These are mom and pop shops, no company has more than two percent of the entire market. There is no cabal trying to lure kids in. If there is an attempt to create one, they are doing a terrible job let's face it, "e-cigarette" is the worst possible name for a product. To Dr. Frieden's point, here is the kind of advertising a kid may see on television, if they can even find it:

I can't speak for all kids but I feel safe betting that Jenny McCarthy is hardly going to appeal to most young people. It's actually a terrible advertising strategy if the goal is to get kids hooked on nicotine, as Dr. Frieden suggests. That ad probably works fine for men and women who are older and have had no luck quitting with patches or gums, even though regulations prevent e-cigarettes from claiming to reduce smoking.

Back to young people. No one wants kids using e-cigarettes or smoking tobacco, but the evidence is clear that e-cigarettes have reduced smoking overall, so we risk making the perfect the enemy of the good advocating sweeping bans - and survey results are a terrible source of data. In the survey results they used, what is left out is the distinction between a rebellious child trying something because it is a fad, once in the last month, and actually taking it up "nicotine naïve" not having been a smoker. They are more certainly popular than in past years, but it is a mistake to imply that advertising caused e-cigarettes it; if that were true any product would be embraced if enough money is spent and we'd all be drinking New Coke and writing articles on Wang Computers.

Instead, as e-cigarettes became more popular there was enough revenue to make advertising possible. What the CDC is doing by framing the issue is triangulating multiple correlations around a statement they don't have evidence to make; that e-cigarette use among kids is caused by advertising.

e-cigarettes kids

If the link between advertising and use were truly causational, there would be no cigarette smoking among kids by now, yet there still is. Advertising didn't make e-cigarettes popular any more than ads made singer Tori Kelly successful. If anything, the counter-culture aspect of e-cigarettes would be harmed by advertising, especially the kind that the CDC seems worried about.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate more tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and tobacco products that were not regulated. The White House Office of Management and Budget asked us to come and advise them about regulation and our only substantial recommendation different from what was already proposed was to change the substantial equivalence date so a lot of existing tools were not suddenly "illegal." Everyone rational agrees there should be product consistency (unlike in the supplements market, where companies lobby against safety standards) and safety and I hope all can agree that kids should not use e-cigarettes, Frieden says, which everyone does. But kids should also not be drinking Red Bull, the toxic affects of caffeine on developing brains are well-documented while e-cigarettes have not been popular for enough time to know if any harm will result over the long-term. Yet we don't advocate bans on advertising Red Bull simply because young people are in a period of experimentation and use it to have the pretense of more energy.

We don't respect a single thing Jenny McCarthy says. That's no reason to ban her ads.

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