The Effects of Cigarette And Vape Adverts on Consumers 

Studies have consistently shown a positive relationship between vape adverts and increased consumption. Can a balance be found to inform adult smokers about the benefits of the products for smoking cessation, while preventing visibility to non-smoking minors?

A study by researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Washington, had ireported that a 10% increase in TV product placement for cigarettes, increased sales by 2% for the tobacco brand shown on-screen. However, what is most interesting, is that cigarette promotions also led to an increase in sales of the advertised brands’ direct competitors and cigarettes in general, not just the advertised brand.

Titled “Show and Sell: Studying the Effects of Branded Cigarette Product Placement in TV Shows on Cigarette Sales,” the study noted that while due to tight regulations cigarette brands can no longer advertise explicitly such as on billboards and TV ads, they still benefit from TV product placement.

“When people see product placement for a particular brand like Marlboro, retail sales of Marlboro products go up. However, what’s more surprising is that sales of other competitor cigarette brands (Camel, Parliament, Newport, etc.) also go up,” says Pradeep Chintagunta of the University of Chicago. “This indicates that product placement isn’t just about getting people to shift the brands of cigarettes they use – but to get people to smoke more overall.”

Adverts as a classic example of conditioning
This tendency could be attributed to a phenomenon which in Behavioural Psychology is called “conditioning.” Conditioning is a form of automatic learning process in which a particular stimulus starts triggering a response. This phenomenon can in fact be found at the basis of most addictions. In the case of adverts, they are presenting consumers with a stimulus, which will remind them of the feeling evoked by the advertised object, and make them want to consume it.

The study, “Youth tobacco and cannabis use and co-use: Associations with daily exposure to tobacco marketing within activity spaces and by travel patterns,” examined daily locations of youth, their travel patterns, and their exposure to tobacco retail marketing, with the aim of determining how these affected their tobacco and cannabis use and co-use.

One hundred participants ages ranging from 16 to 20 completed 1,060 daily assessments using GPS-enabled smartphones with a survey application. The compiled responses indicated that perceived exposure to tobacco marketing was associated with co-use of tobacco and cannabis on a given day, and that this association was more common among youth who walked/biked/skated more.

While, a recent study looked into the impact of social media adverts on vaping behaviours among youth. Published in the journal PLOS Global Public Health, the research indicated that exposure to e-cigarette promotions on various social media platforms, often endorsed by celebrities and influencers, contributes significantly to the rising popularity of vaping among the youth demographic.

The comprehensive review incorporated findings from 11 research studies, examining popular social media networks such as Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. The collective evidence revealed that prevalent marketing strategies employed for vapes not only attracted more young users but also intensified their intentions to use these products. Furthermore, these strategies were found to prompt an increase in the initiation of vaping and overall vaping frequency among the youth.

Social media has taken marketing to a whole new dangerous level
Key marketing approaches identified in the study included celebrity and influencer sponsorship, with a particular emphasis on the appeal of e-liquids, flavours and nicotine levels. Lead study author Luana Chacon Santos from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York expressed concern about the normalization of e-cigarettes among young people and highlighted the potential repetition of harmful patterns observed in the traditional tobacco industry. Santos emphasized the role of social media platforms as robust marketplaces for vape sales and called for urgent implementation of stricter regulations to address this issue.

Santos highlighted that while the UK Government has recently announced measures to ban disposable vapes and regulate their marketing in physical stores targeting children, social media campaigns have not been specifically addressed. She added that any efforts to reduce underage access should extend to online platforms, particularly on social media, where these products are heavily promoted.

The mentioned studies underscored the need for immediate regulatory actions to counter the growing influence of advertising, especially via social media, on youth. Tobacco harm reduction experts have consistently argued that while vaping products should be visible and accessible to adult smokers seeking to quit smoking, they should not be marketed to  youth and non-smokers, and firm age restrictions should be in place to avoid underage sales.

The right balance could lie in having infographic material available in vape retail outlets, for smokers seeking information on using the products for smoking cessation, while having in place tight restrictions on adverts or marketing campaigns portraying vapes as lifestyle products.