7.1 Are vaping products aggressively marketed to teens?

There is no sign of this in reality. Just because teens take to something does not mean that it was ‘aggressively marketed’ to them.  For example in 2017, one in five (19.8%) of US adolescents were cannabis users, but there has been very little marketing of cannabis to anyone.  Nor is it enough to point to marketing that uses childish images, cartoons or brand names.  It is a myth that arises from a dual misunderstanding: (1) that adults don’t like sweet things or don’t have nostalgia for childish things, and (2) that adolescents are somehow trying to reinforce their childish identity when they are more likely doing the opposite. Also, adolescents make very poor customers for vaping companies – the large market of adult smokers is much more lucrative because those users will displace smoking by vaping daily and more intensively, have more disposable income and are likely to remain as customers. Teen users also cause vape companies immense political pain, don’t make that much use of the products and most will give up – they just are not worth pursuing with marketing budgets.  Controls on content and placement could reinforce the already poor incentives to pursue young customers.

7.2 Should advertising for reduced-risk products be banned?

No, absolutely not. This type of advertising actually functions as anti-smoking advertising – promoting a smoking cessation pathway, and at no expense to the taxpayer. It allows the new ‘entrant’ products to gain the attention of smokers and compete with cigarettes, the dominant ‘incumbent’.  Advertising and promotion is key to the disruption of the cigarette oligopoly.  It works by informing consumers, developing confidence in brands, creating a buzz around an alternative “value proposition” to smoking.  To ban the advertising of low-risk alternatives has the effect of protecting the cigarette trade.

Further reading

  • Dave D, Dench D, Grossman M, Kenkel DS, Saffer H. Does e-cigarette advertising encourage adult smokers to quit? Journal of Health Economics. 2019. [link]
  • Tuchman AE. Advertising and Demand for Addictive Goods: The Effects of E-Cigarette Advertising, Stanford University, (working paper), Semantic Scholar,  1 April 2016l [link][PDF]
  • Snowdon CJ. E-cigarettes and Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive. European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER), September 2015. [link]

7.3 How to maximise the benefit to smokers and would-be smokers, while minimising the potential to recruit non-users of nicotine

Controls on access, marketing and information should be used for targeting any particular sub-populations, such as youth.

Rather than ban vape advertising, a good policy would control content (what sort of messages) and placement (where and when the advertiser can advertise).  Several jurisdictions control alcohol advertising in this way, for example, see UK code on non-broadcast and broadcast advertising of alcohol.

But the question may contain a flawed premise, in my view.  It is too narrowly short-term to conceptualise vaping as a smoking cessation option for adult smokers. Why should it somehow be a prerequisite to smoke before vaping?  Vaping products will bring on the obsolescence of cigarettes – the ‘endgame’ as some call it – and with it the epidemic of disease and death caused by smoking.  The rise of vaping is better understood as an emerging technology transition within the consumer nicotine market, in which nicotine use is decoupled from the driver of disease, smoking.

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