Crossfire: How the General Public Reacts to E-Cigarette Ads

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Unless you’ve been avoiding pretty much every form of media for the past several years, you’ve likely encountered roughly 12 billion conflicting opinions on how e-cigarette companies market and advertise their products. While we obviously have a horse in this particular race — we are, after all, a responsible e-cigarette distributor ourselves — we’re always trying to understand how the public feels about the industry’s efforts and what we can do better for both our customers and the general public. Let’s look at the argument from both sides.

The Negative History of Big Tobacco’s Claims

It’s not difficult to understand why consumers would have a viscerally negative reaction to any smoking-related advertising. Much of the 20th century was consumed by misinformation from leading tobacco brands, and it wasn’t until 1952 that a Reader’s Digest article detailing the cancerous effects of cigarettes sent shockwaves through the country. Along with other reports, that article ultimately led to more than four decades of major cultural changes, including a 1971 ban on tobacco-related broadcast advertising.

Related: Do e-cigarette ads target children or irresponsible parents?

The problem, of course, was that brands were promoting cancer-causing products with absolutely no transparency regarding the health risks. In fact, most companies at the time were actively denying that those risks existed; some even went so far as to claim that cigarettes were approved by leading doctors. What’s more, many companies were positioning their ads during broadcasts like “The Flintstones” that were overtly intended for children. It was, to put it mildly, an enormous issue that’s reverberated through American culture ever since.

When e-cigarette companies first hit the market, many consumers reacted with a sort of tobacco whiplash: a fear that this emerging product was somehow complicit in an entirely new set of lies and advertising schemes. We know, of course, that responsible and established companies — White Cloud among them — have been careful to remain completely transparent and avoid any unsubstantiated claims. Some members of the general public, however, are simply associating our efforts with 50 years of false claims from Big Tobacco and a fear that e-cigarettes will normalize smoking again.

In That Corner: The Positive Effects of Non-Tobacco Advertising

It’s important to recognize, though, that the tobacco whiplash hasn’t affected every corner of public conversation. In fact, some experts believe that the glamorization and renormalization issue isn’t quite as dire as others believe it to be. In an interview with Boston University, School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel suggests that e-cigarette advertising could actually be beneficial to smoking cessation if the ads are honest about the product’s intent.

Additionally, the backlash to the Center for Disease Control’s recent ad campaign — an anecdotal commercial suggesting that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as tobacco — indicates that the public might be more on the fence than some reports would have us believe. As Siegel mentions in the aforementioned interview, the ability for e-cigarette advertising to align the products with smoking cessation without making a therapeutic claim could actually create a public-health benefit for current tobacco users. Whether or not that will ever be possible remains to be seen — the FDA strongly regulates any smoking-cessation claims — but it’s proof that many people don’t view adult-focused ads as a step backward. For some current smokers, it’s possible that they might just wind up being a step forward.