Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are currently advertised and sold in the United States (US) with few restrictions. Since 2012, e-cigarette advertisements across a variety of media channels, including television and print, have increased rapidly and several major tobacco companies have entered the e-cigarette market. In 2013, overall e-cigarette advertising expenditures reached $58 million with 143 unique advertisements. Despite news reports that these brands have rolled out nationally, little is known about how the products are promoted. This study addresses a gap in the literature by providing surveillance data on e-cigarette advertising, focusing on three tobacco industry owned brands.
Methods: A full-service advertising firm, Competitrak, was used to collect all TV, online display, online video, print and radio advertisements occurring in the US between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014 for three industry-owned e-cigarette brands, MarkTen, Blu, and Vuse. The advertising expenditures and associated meta-data were downloaded and summarized.
Results: There were a total of 298 unique e-cigarette advertisements identified during this time period. Total spend on e-cigarette advertising for the three brands was $88,117,785, an approximate $30 million increase from 2013. In 2014, the greatest proportion of spend was through print (63%) and television (31%). Blu (owned by Lorillard) has dominated the e-cigarette industry since 2012; however in 2014 MarkTen (owned by Altria) had the highest advertising expenditures with $35,282,330. Blu had the second highest with $30,100,216, and Vuse (owned by RJ Reynolds) advertising expenditures for 2014 was $7,917,745. MarkTen was advertised mainly through print and was placed in over 25 consumer magazines while blu focused on print and television mediums. Vuse was advertised primarily through television and online display.
Conclusions: Electronic cigarette advertising expenditures increased by $30 million overall between 2013 and 2014. Major tobacco company e-cigarette brands are dominating the e-cigarette advertising category. MarkTen made its national debut in the second quarter of 2014 and their advertising expenditures exploded, exceeding blu, the former leader in advertising spend. Vuse also began its national rollout in 2014 and had the fourth highest expenditures among all brands.
Implications for research and/or practice: There is a need for continued surveillance of e-cigarette advertising given the dominance of major tobacco companies in the e-cigarette industry and rising prevalence rates among youth. With such high levels of expenditures from these brands on television and in magazines, advertisements may be reaching youth and young adults as well. Surveillance is essential in informing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of e-cigarettes and educating the public on potential risks.