Adult smokers love… twerking?

May 21, 2014

Manufacturers of electronic cigarettes keep saying they don’t market to kids. They claim their target audience is current smokers. So how, exactly, does a video called “How to Twerk: A helpful how-to for would-be booty-shakers” fit into that strategy?

The latest addition to blu e-cigarettes’ YouTube page – and to their website – features entertainer Big Freedia teaching cheering young adults how to shake their stuff. The twerking dance craze became nationally notorious thanks to Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

In February, we reported on blu’s ad in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue that placed the blu logo on the skimpy bikini bottom of a shapely model.  This new twerking video is yet another example of why e-cigarette manufacturers like Lorillard, owner of blu, 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 continues: “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.” Sorry, Lorillard, but twerking doesn’t come close to passing that test.

The twerking video is just the latest example of how e-cigarette marketing is using the same tactics and themes – including sex appeal – long used to market regular cigarettes to kids.  Marketing for blu eCigs has used celebrity spokespeople, slick magazine ads, auto racing and music festival sponsorships, sweet flavors and even a cartoon pitchman.

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

In April, the FDA finally issued its long-awaited proposed rule to begin regulating electronic cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products not currently under its jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the proposed rule does not address e-cigarette marketing.  Egregious marketing like the twerking video shows why the FDA must move quickly to finalize the rule and develop follow-up regulations to address marketing that appeals to kids.