Public health authorities are especially worried about such ads’ effect on teens. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 2011 to 2012, the percentage of high school students who have tried e-cigarettes more than doubled to 10 percent.
“It is frankly appalling,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Nicotine is highly addictive. If kids have more access to nicotine, they are quite likely to have a lifetime addiction to tobacco products, including cigarettes.”
Six of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers spent $59 million on advertising and other promotion in 2013, with five of them increasing their ad spending by 164 percent during the year, according to a congressional report released Monday.
“The second coming of tobacco marketing is pouring millions into adland,” Advertising Age reported.
E-cigarette defenders argue that vaping is a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, or “combustibles.” With the electronic version, users don’t inhale tar and smoke.
But too little research has been conducted to say for sure that vaping is entirely safe.
Promoting e-cigarettes also risks encouraging smoking, in general. Some current smokers will be less inclined to quit if they can vape in places where combustibles are banned.
Furthermore, the CDC was unhappy to find that many former smokers are now using e-cigarettes.
“We are very concerned that under the guise of reducing harm, [e-cigarettes] will actually increase smoking,” Frieden said.
Still, the biggest concern about e-cigarettes is the young. Research suggests that nicotine damages adolescent brain development, and that teens are more vulnerable than adults to getting addicted.
The FDA should impose a nationwide ban on selling e-cigarettes to people younger than 18. More than half the states, including Maryland and Virginia, have some form of age limit already. But other states and the District of Columbia do not.