June 2, 2014
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Teen Exposure to E-Cigarette Ads Up Sharply
E-cigarette advertising on TV has expanded dramatically since 2011. And teens and young adults are seeing most of the ads, a new study suggests. E-cigarettes are electronic devices that look like cigarettes. They use heat to turn liquid nicotine into vapor that is inhaled. Researchers looked at Nielsen TV advertising data for 2011 through 2013. They tracked all e-cigarette ads that appeared on more than 100 network and cable channels. They also looked at network and program audience numbers for different age groups. They found that the number of children ages 12 through 17 who were exposed to these ads rose 256% in 2 years. For young adults, ages 18 through 24, exposure jumped 321%. About 3 out of 4 ads were shown on networks popular with young audiences. TV advertising of cigarettes has been banned for more than 40 years. In April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed the first regulations for e-cigarettes. If made final, they would ban sales to minors. The new rules would not ban e-cigarette advertising on TV. The journal Pediatrics published the study online. HealthDay News wrote about it June 2.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Just when we thought we were making headway with teens and smoking, the e-cigarette came along.
The e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that looks like a cigarette. It delivers nicotine through a vapor. There's no smoke involved. As a nicotine delivery system to help smokers quit or at least cut their health risk, it makes sense and could be a good thing.
But that's not how youth think of it or use it -- and that's not a good thing at all.
Between 2011 and 2012, teen use of e-cigarettes doubled. The percentage of teens who had ever used them increased from 3.3% to 6.8%. About 10% of those who used e-cigarettes had never used regular cigarettes. A big part of the explanation for both of these facts could be advertising. A study just published in the journal Pediatrics sheds light on some scary new trends.
Cigarette advertising has been banned from U.S. TV since 1971. The same rules don't apply to e-cigarettes. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate marketing of e-cigarettes unless they are being advertised as an aid for quitting smoking. Otherwise, the manufacturers of e-cigarettes can do whatever they want in marketing their products.
And that's what they have been doing. In 2012, e-cigarette companies started airing ads on TV, especially cable TV. And here's what’s really worrisome: The times that the ads are shown, and the shows they appear with, mean that teens and young adults are very likely to see them. In fact, youth exposure to e-cigarette ads increased 256% between 2011 and 2013. Young adult exposure increased 321% over the same period.
Interestingly, one brand, blu eCigs, accounted for the vast majority of the advertising that teens and young adults see.
We don't know for sure that using e-cigarettes makes teens and young adults more likely to become addicted to nicotine -- or more likely to use cigarettes. But we are worried that it will. This is worrisome, because studies show that exposure to nicotine can affect the brains of teenagers in bad ways. Specifically, it can lead to problems with learning, attention, impulse control and memory. And obviously, if using e-cigarettes leads to cigarette smoking, there are many known health consequences.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Clearly, the FDA needs to regulate the sale and advertising of e-cigarettes, especially to youth. This is beginning to happen; more and more states are banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
But the problem goes further than that. Experts worry that the advertising makes using (or "vaping") e-cigarettes seem attractive -- and safe. This undermines all the progress that has been made in changing the social norms about smoking. In the advertising, e-cigarettes are portrayed as a grown-up thing to do, which has been shown to affect and interest teenagers. There's no mention of the risk of addiction to nicotine.
That's why parents, and all those who work with or play roles in the lives of youth (and young adults) need to talk about the risks of nicotine addiction. We need to help make it clear that e-cigarettes are a bad idea -- one that can lead to many health and other problems.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
If we don't act, we can expect that many more youth will start using e-cigarettes. So we can expect that many will suffer the consequences of nicotine, and quite possibly the health effects of cigarettes.
I hope that we act. I hope that we don’t let this happen.