An E-Cigarette Ad on an Itsy, Bitsy… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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An E-Cigarette Ad on an Itsy, Bitsy Bikini

February 24, 2014

Manufacturers of electronic cigarettes have repeatedly claimed they don’t market to kids. But their actions tell a different story.

In the latest example, Lorillard Inc. has placed an ad for its best-selling blu eCigs in the just-published swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, no doubt one of the favorite magazines of teenage boys. The ad features the blu logo front and center on the skimpy bikini bottom of a shapely model. You can even zoom in on it on the online version of the ad.

It’s one of the most offensive ads by a tobacco company we’ve seen in a long time. The ad is certain to catch the eye of teens browsing the magazine, and the message to them is clear: E-cigarettes are sexy and fun. Puff on them while you leer.

Ads like this show that Lorillard can’t be taken seriously when they say their intended customers are “smokers of legal age” and that “responsible e-cigarette manufacturers, including blu eCigs, do not market to youth,” as a Lorillard executive wrote in a recent letter to the Food and Drug Administration.

The letter went on to state, “Lorillard understands the sensitivity associated with advertising and marketing campaigns and their potential influence on minors. For this reason, blu eCigs is actively and effectively ensuring that its advertising is directed at adult smokers.”

What sensitivity to the potential influence on minors does the bikini ad show?

This ad is just the latest example of how marketing for e-cigarettes is using the same slick tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. Marketing for blu eCigs has used celebrity spokespeople, rugged men and glamorous women just like the Marlboro Men and Virginia Slims women of old, race car sponsorships, sweet flavors and a cartoon pitchman. And now sexy models.

Another company even featured Santa Claus in a billboard ad for its e-cigarettes.

Given this irresponsible marketing, it’s not surprising that youth use of e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, when 10 percent of high school students reported ever having used e-cigarettes, according to a CDC survey.

Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, e-cigarettes could benefit public health if they help significantly reduce the number of people who use conventional cigarettes and die of tobacco-related disease. However, if they continue to be irresponsibly marketed, they could make smoking look glamorous again and undermine decades of work to reduce youth smoking.

Ads like the one in Sports Illustrated show why the FDA must act quickly to regulate e-cigarettes and take steps to prevent their marketing and sales to kids. And state and local governments need to do their part by applying their tobacco regulations to e-cigarettes as well.