It looks like e-cigarette manufacturers may have found the perfect market for their products - children under the age of 18.
According to the study published online today by the journal Pediatrics, between 2011 and 2013 exposure to e-cigarette TV ads increased by 256% among adolescents ages 12 to 17 and by 321% among young adults, ages 18 to 24.
Researchers reported that approximately 76% of the ads seen by each of the two age groups occurred while watching cable networks — most often AMC, Country Music Television, Comedy Central, WGN America, TV Land and VH1. They also appeared on broadcast network programs that were among the 100 highest rated youth programs for the 2012-2013 TV season, including The Bachelor, Big Brother and Survivor, the study finds.
One brand, blu eCigs, owned by tobacco company Lorillard, accounted for almost 82% of all nationally aired e-cigarette ads viewed by 12- to 17-year-olds.
E-cigarettes have been touted as a new way for smokers to get the nicotine they want without the cancer causing chemicals in traditional cigarettes. They've also been promoted as a method that smokers can use to cut back and eventually quit their habit by inhaling nicotine vapors instead of cigarette smoke.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) l has been considering new rules that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
The makers of e-cigarettes say they are not advertising their products to minors.
In a statement, blu eCigs said it has "proactively set limitations on when and where" its product "can be marketed in an effort to minimize any potential exposure to minors." A part of the criteria used "is to screen all marketing opportunities to ensure that our TV ads only run with media targeting an adult audience of 85 percent or greater."
The study's lead author says the data suggests otherwise. "The tobacco industry and e-cigarette industry say that they are not advertising products to youth, but they are advertising products on a medium which is the broadest based medium in the country," says Jennifer Duke, lead author of the study and a public health researcher at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
With a national television audience that includes 24 million viewers between the ages of 12 and 17, "as e-cigarette advertisements increase for adults they are by default also increasing exposure to youth," Duke says. "It's hard to argue that only adults are seeing these ads," she adds.
E-cigarettes have not been fully studied by the FDA, but a laboratory analysis of several samples conducted by the agency in late 2008 found trace amounts of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.
Results of the new media study provide "the strongest evidence that there has been an absolute explosion of youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising on television," says Matthew Myers, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"It's particularly disturbing precisely because Congress removed cigarette advertising from television because of the unique impact TV advertising has on young people," Myers says. " When e-cigarette manufacturers say that they don't market to minors, it's Deja Vu all over again. This study demonstrates the importance of FDA moving rapidly and decisively to protect our nation's children."
Source: Michelle Healy, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/02/e-cigarettes-tv-ads-youth/9760425/