“What about the Children” Part 1: Advertising & Selling to Minors

Welcome back to our Knowledge is Power blog series. This week we are going to be looking at the question “What about the Children”. In researching this subject I found there were three key issues all wrapped up under this heading: advertising/selling to minors, e-juice safety, and flavors. Normally we would cover an issue within one blog posting, but due to the extensiveness of each issue within the overall subject matter we have decided to do something a bit different. This weekend we are doing a “What about the Children” long weekend (through Monday), where each day we will discuss a different issue. Today we will be tackling the Advertising & Selling to minors.

adult sign under 18 sign


The NY Times published the article E-Cigarettes, by Other Names, Lure Young and Worry Experts1where they stated “Public health authorities worry that people are being drawn to products that intentionally avoid the term ‘e-cigarette’. Of particular concern is use among teenagers, many of whom appear to view e-cigarettes and e-hookahs as entirely different products when, for all practical purposes, they are often indistinguishable.” What they are saying is, they are worried calling e-cigarettes by anything other than e-cigarette will confuse young people into thinking they are something different than what they are. The use of terms like e-hookah, vape pen, mod, etc. is not an industry jargon distinguishing between different types of e-cigarettes, but a marketing strategy to draw youth attention to the product. The NY Times published another article Six Senators Urge Stronger Warnings on E-Cigarettes2where they stated “The senators have been among the most aggressive members of congress in pursuing stronger regulation of e-cigarettes. They were among those signing a House-Senate letter in April criticizing e-cigarette marketing practices that the legislators said were aimed at young people, and they introduced legislation to prohibit such marketing.” The concern regarding advertising seems to be surrounding the fact that there are celebrities using them in the commercials, making them attractive to young people. Interestingly, the WHO3 has made only this statement regarding advertising “An appropriate government body must restrict e-cigarette advertising, promotion and sponsorship, to ensure that it does not target youth and non-smokers or people who do not currently use nicotine.” This seems to b a logical and appropriate policy to put into place. Taking things in a different direction, the American Heart Association (AHA)4 published their E-Cigarette Policy Statement in which they state “There is robust marketing and advertising of e-cigarettes on television and in magazines using celebrities as well as flavorings to make these products particularly attractive to children and adolescents. Their attraction to these high-tech devices is fueled further by the marketing practices of the tobacco industry.” Again, seemingly the issue with the advertising, aside from the fact that it exists at all, is having celebrities promoting the product. Science Daily5 published the study E-cigarette TV Ads Targeting Youth in which they found “youth exposure to electronic cigarette advertisements increased by 256% from 2011 to 2013 and young adult exposure to e-cigarette ads jumped 321 percent in the same time period. More than 80% of the advertisements in 2013 were for a single brand, Blu eCigs, which is owned by the tobacco company Lorillard.” Meaning that there is a drastic increase in advertising exposure of e-cigarettes that is being seen by children and young adults, and that the majority of those advertisements are paid for by big tobacco.

Now we know that there are concerns about advertising and selling of e-cigarettes based on a few key factors. Using certian verbiage to confuse or “trick” youth, celebrities promoting the product and advertising in areas of exposure to children and youth have all caused some concern. First, there’s not much we can say about the verbiage. E-cigarettes have a variety of styles and functions, meaning different names is required to distinguish between them. The use of the terms pen style and box mod is seemingly no different than saying there’s a galaxy and an apple. We know that both galaxy and apple are referring to cell phones, but to just say I’m using my smart phone is not sufficient to explain certain aspects of what you’re doing. Understanding the different types is essential in creating a positive vaping experience to our customers. Second, celebrities promote products. Again, there’s not much we can say about that. It’s a marketing industry standard, and the advertisements from people like Katherine Heigl are organic. She did not go on Letterman8 to talk about her e-cig because she was paid to, she talked about it because it has positively affected her life, and she wanted to share that with the world. While it’s true that the youth exposure to e-cigarette ads has increased dramatically, that is that the advertising itself has increased. According to the My Fox6 article E-Cigarette Advertising Soars on American TV “more than ¾ of the ads were airing on networks including Comedy Central, TV Land, WGN America, VH1, Country Music Television and AMC.” Interestingly, the key demographic of viewers for all of these channels is viewers age 18-49 according to TV by the Numbers7 demographic studies. Meaning, by advertising on these channels, the goal is to reach that specific demographic. For most of the country, 18 is the legal age to purchase tobacco, meaning they are the demographic appropriate for e-cigarette advertisements. While it is understood that there will always be exposure to young people when putting anything on the television, this should not exclude that marketing opportunity for all companies who are not selling to kids. The industry at large prevents this by advertising on channels whose demographic is the legal smoking age in and of itself helps to minimize exposure to youth.

The National Conference of State Legislatures9 published a statement Electronic Cigarettes where they stated “At least 41 states and one territory currently prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes or vaping/alternative tobacco products to minors. Michigan’s bill to prohibit sales to minors is pending governor’s signature as of mid-September.” Since then, Michigan has been added to the list of states restricting sales of e-cigarettes to minors. However, many of the vape shops, including Mt Baker Vapor have policies in place against selling to minors regardless of legal restrictions in their area. While I cannot speak for everyone, the majority of the vaping community agrees that nicotine products should only be sold to those who are of legal smoking age.

In summary, marketing is a valid part of any business. How marketing is conducted, and the key demographics being targeted, should be taken into consideration when thinking about the pro’s and con’s of any company advertisement. While the exposure to youth has increased with the television advertising, that is certainly affected by the fact that there is more advertising in general. The key demographics being targeted by the channels these ads are being shown on are people of legal smoking age. Additionally, the majority of states in the US have imposed laws against selling to minors, which we fully support. Many vape shops have policies prohibiting sales to minors regardless of the law in their state. So, the question then becomes, if a product is something that is restricted from sales to minors, should they be allowed any advertising at all? I believe Forbes10 addressed this best in their article The Folly of Child-Proofing the World where they stated “In other words, they [those opposing e-cigarettes] are prepared to sacrifice the interests, and potentially the lives, of verifiably real adults for the sake of hypothetical teenagers. This is where the logic of regulating “for the children” leads. Attempts to child-proof the world do not necessarily make kids any safer, but they always make adults less free.”

As always, I encourage everyone to educate themselves. Read the studies and information listed in the references below, and learn more about the reality and misconceptions surrounding the issue of advertising and selling e-cigarettes to minors. Come back tomorrow when we look at Part 2 – Child Safety and E-Cigarettes. Until then, we look forward to your questions and comments. Vape on!

Written by: Michelle Harnden

  1. NY Times “E-Cigarettes Under Aliases Elude the Authorities
  2. NY Times “Six Senators Urge Stronger Warnings on E-Cigarettes
  3. WHO Report on Regulation of E-Cigarettes 
  4. AHA E-Cigarette Policy Statement: AHA E-Cigarettes Threaten to Addict the Next Generation of Smokers
  5. Science Daily E-cigarette TV ads targeting youth increased 256% in past two years
  6. My Fox article “E-Cigarette Advertising Soars on American TV
  7. TV by the Numbers
  8. Katherine Heigl on Letterman 
  9. National Conference of State Legislatures “Electronic Cigarettes
  10. Forbes “The Folly of Child-Proofing the World
Tim Mechling

Tim is Mt Baker Vapor's resident creative weirdo. He writes, composes music, draws, designs, produces podcasts, investigates, and blows the trumpet for the Common Man.