E-Cigarette Reviews and Rankings

Cambridge Study Finds No Evidence That E-Cigarette Ads Push Kids to Smoking

As Big Tobacco and e-cig companies continue pouring millions into e-cigarette advertising, there is growing concern that their marketing efforts could have negative consequences on youth, like pushing them to smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Cosmic-Fog-flavorsConsidering the history of tobacco ads and their effect on minors, one could argue that such fears are somewhat justified. However, a recent study from Cambridge University, in the UK, found no evidence that e-cigarette ads increase the appeal of regular cigarettes in minors or that they renormalize smoking.

Researchers led by Dr Milica Vasiljevic from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, examined 598 English schoolchildren aged 11 – 16, exposing them to various types of electronic cigarette ads and then assessing whether they made the kids want to try tobacco, experiment with e-cigarettes, and if they altered their perception of the danger posed by smoking.

The first step of the study consisted of eliminating children who had ever smoked or used electronic cigarettes from the study, which brought the final sample down to 471. These were then split into three groups – one was exposed to flavored e-cigarette ads, another to non-flavored e-cigarette ads, while the third (control) group saw no ads at all. It should be noted that the ads consisted of still images, not video.

“Exposure to either set of adverts did not increase the appeal of tobacco smoking, the appeal of using e-cigarettes, or susceptibility to tobacco smoking,” the study authors concluded. “Also, it did not reduce the perceived harm of tobacco smoking, which was high.”

“We found no evidence that exposing English children aged 11–16 years to adverts for candy-like flavored and non-flavoured e-cigarettes increased the low appeal of smoking tobacco, the low appeal of using e-cigarettes, or low susceptibility to tobacco smoking. Nor did it reduce the high perceived harm of tobacco smoking,” researchers added.

Regarding the “gateway theory“, according to which electronic cigarettes renormalize smoking and act as a gateway to tobacco cigarette use, this study found “no support for the renormalization hypothesis since exposure to e-cigarette adverts did not increase the appeal of tobacco smoking in this sample of children.”

The gateway theory has been one of the most used arguments by e-cigarette opponents in the last few years, despite the fact that is has also been debunked a number of times by various studies and surveys.

Dr. Vasiljevic and her team did express some concern regarding one of their findings – that youths exposed to flavored electronic cigarettes expressed a greater interest in buying and trying e-cigarettes than the ones exposed to non-flavored e-cig ads and those in the control group.

“We’re cautiously optimistic from our results that e-cigarette ads don’t make tobacco smoking more attractive, but we’re concerned that ads for e-cigarettes with flavors that might appeal to school children could encourage them to try the products,” Vasiljevic said.

That is a rather confusing find, that seems to contradict the fact that none of the three groups had exhibited an increase in the appeal of using e-cigarettes. The scientist explain:

“While adverts did not affect the appeal of using e-cigarettes, they affected children’s interest in buying and trying e-cigarettes. There are two main possible reasons for such a difference in effects. First, one of the outcome measures taps into more general appeal of long-term use of e-cigarettes, whereas the other measure taps into shorter term interest in buying and trying e-cigarettes without necessarily making a commitment for long-term use. Second, appeal of using e-cigarettes was measured in general terms, whereas interest in buying and trying e-cigarettes was measured specifically with reference to the adverts participants were exposed to. Future studies should further examine these differential effects.”

So this may just be the children’s desire to experiment with electronic cigarettes, which, as some researchers have pointed out in the past, is not synonymous with using e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, that is the one aspect that the media, and even Cambridge University itself, decided to focus on when reporting on this study, despite the fact that the researchers main goal was to asses the appeal of tobacco smoking following exposure to e-cigarette ads.

I personally was expecting the media to focus on the one controversial finding of this study, while completely ignoring its most important points, but the fact that Cambridge itself posted an article titled “Ads for candy-flavoured e-cigarettes could encourage vaping among school children” was an unpleasant surprise.


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