E-Cigarettes in the Media: Do e-cig ads target children or irresponsible parents?

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Recently, ABC News posted a story stating e-cigarette advertising targets kids. In the article, it stated Research Triangle Institute International found from 2011 to 2013, e-cigarette TV advertisements that reached children increased by 256 percent, and those that reached young adults increased by 321 percent.

Unsurprising, considering there weren’t many – if any – TV ads for e-cigs prior to 2011. If there were, they likely involved a guy in a tux vaping while speaking in a condescending tone at 3am.

But I digress…

The article also once again pinpointed the use of flavorings in e-cigs, and may or may not have accused e-cigarettes of using salty language and dancing inappropriately with Kevin Bacon in a small town. I think we’ve all heard this song before.

Our response

Look, there’s only so many times we can repeat the parallels between these claims, and those related to advertising for alcohol, fast food, faster cars and slow-release pharmaceuticals. Contrary to popular belief, the overabundance of medical advertising and availability has far worse ramifications than a 4-hour erection.

Just check the police blotter in any college town for more evidence of that.

If it’s on TV, there is always the risk that minors will see it. Heck, the article even states this research team “found that 80 percent of the ads were for the same company, [COMPANY NAME WITHHELD], and that the ads were airing on networks such as Comedy Central and VH1.”

First off, if 80 percent of the advertising came from one company, how are they justified in vilifying an entire industry – especially those that don’t advertise on television? That’s like saying hundreds of people got food poisoning from one questionable Steak and Shake in Lubbock, Texas, therefore the entire fast food industry should be forbidden to sell burgers.

What the article also mentioned – albeit at the very end of the piece – was that the company responsible for the lion’s share of advertising “sets limitations on advertising placement to be sure it’s reaching audiences that are made up of at least 85 percent adults ‘in an effort to minimize any potential exposure to minors.’”

Maybe that number needs to be higher, but these metrics are speculative at best, regardless of intention. The company in question likely did its due diligence.

Secondly, Comedy Central is very clear about its target audience, and airs program rating warnings before every show begins. It is not a channel designed for children, and if they’re watching it alone, then advertising is the least of parents’ content worries.

(I won’t mention VH1’s target audience, because “Behind the Music: ABBA” does that for me.)

But the point is clear – e-cig advertising is designed to appear on appropriate outlets, and isn’t exactly dominating the airwaves as much as this article would have you believe. If children happen to be watching it, then parents and guardians need to address it accordingly. If children are watching it with interest, then parents and guardians need to have a longer discussion.

It should be said these conversations could actually benefit from advertising. With the continued success of informative interstitial ad spots – those 3-5 minute segments that appear between regular programs – the e-cigarette industry has a significant opportunity to educate a large viewer base about electronic smoking products, their ingredients, and proper use and safety requirements.

The article closes with this tidbit: “What may be even more alarming is that this study only looked at television advertising.  Add in social media ads, radio and print, and kids and young adults are likely seeing e-cigarette ads frequently.”

Need I remind anyone of what else can be found on the Internet? This is why computers have parental control filters, browser-based safe search and more. In an ideal world, if these filters are set correctly, sites featuring e-cig advertising would not appear in front of minors.

Maybe it is truly idealistic, but in the end, no computer workaround is a replacement for responsible parenting and monitoring what children are exposed to. It’s nigh impossible to protect them from everything being published, but you can educate them about the science of electronic cigarettes.

It starts in the home, friends.

The public’s response

While we could continue this discussion for pages and pages, I thought a fun social experiment would be to see what the general public’s response was to this very same article. So, I grabbed my flak jacket and scrolled down to the Internet’s most-telling bastion of honesty – the comments section.

Right from the outset, this thread was entertaining, and more logical than is typical of such forums. For example, the following:

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And, even more in line with our stance:

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Great minds, I tell ya… But, self-applause aside, a more common e-cig argument quickly ensued:

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Stop me if you’re seeing a parallel with what e-cig companies have been saying in their defense all along. But, my point is not to say, “I told you so,” based on random comments in one thread.

Rather, the goal is to highlight that both e-cig companies and the public they serve are sharing a lot of common ground. This thread is one example of literally thousands that occur online each day in blogs, forums, article comment sections, etc.

And they always seem to end the same way – with overblown arguments being challenged by logic and data, to no avail, as news media hype trumps proof each and every day.

If e-cig companies are following standard advertising and distribution practices, and a majority of the public isn’t opposed to them, who is responsible for creating false concern?

Just check the link atop this post for your answer.

So, friends. What is your take on e-cig advertising? Do you think it’s appropriate for television? Or is it something you think should remain online? Does its presence change your stance on e-cigs as an industry?

Share your thoughts in our own, much less volatile, comments section below.