Tobacco companies haven’t been able to purchase product placement in movies for two decades. (Though there have been plenty of characters who have puffed on a cigarette, but no deals allowed.) However, those rules don’t apply to e-cigarettes, which have seen a spike in popularity. Estimates say that, since 2005, e-cigarettes have become a $3 billion business with 450 brands in the industry.
So it stands to reason that these brands would be looking for ways to market themselves. And product placement has become, increasingly, a marketing path that many companies, even unexpected ones, want to take. The question is how long before e-cigarettes are facing the same restrictions that traditional cigarettes are.
E-cigarettes aren’t new to the silver screen. Johnny Depp was puffing on one in The Tourist in 2010, for example. But next month’s Cymbeline, based on the play by William Shakespeare and starring Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris, will feature them prominently through a partnership deal.
“I think that right now we’re going to have this period where we see almost a land rush to try to get their messages out there before governments, local and federal, come in and really kind of crack down on them,” Ad Age’s Michael Sebastian told CBS News.
So the prediction is that this will not last forever. Regulations are already in the works, with the FDA looking at rules that would require things like health warnings and age restrictions.
Hand-in-hand with that, we’ll propose that you’re probably going to see the movie ratings system come into play on this question as well. A 1998 settlement prohibits tobacco companies from purchasing product placement. However, it wasn’t until 2007 when smoking in a film began to play a role in the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating process. Some suggest that smoking in a movie should automatically trigger an “R” rating. As of now, smoking can still be seen in movies rated PG-13. Critics say that the access to young people, who make up a large portion of the PG-13 audience, is leading to a “re-glamorization” of the habit.
So there’s going to eventually be the issue of movies facing a ratings board for their decision to feature e-cigarettes as well. Depending on how the MPAA comes down on this — and we would guess that it would follow the footsteps of traditional cigarettes if regulations pass — it could be a deterrent to films seeking something other than the “R” to reach a broader audience.
Below is the clip from CBS This Morning on the e-cig issue.