In its heyday, cigarettes were one of the biggest advertising categories. That's just what a growing number of policymakers fear will happen with electronic cigarettes.
Hoping to convince the Food and Drug Administration to regulate e-cigs, three Democratic lawmakers put together a presentation to make the case that e-cigarette companies are targeting young smokers the same way traditional cigarette companies did before they were banned from the airwaves in 1971.
The FDA could make a decision about classifying e-cigarettes soon. Some states have already gone ahead and passed regulations. Utah, N.D., Arkansas, N.J., and Washington, D.C. banned e-cigarettes indoors, and many other states are considering regulations. California bans e-cigarette ads online.
There's a lot that isn't known about e-cigarettes (even the FDA says the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes have not been fully studies), but a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set off alarm bells among a number of policymakers. It found that the use of e-cigarettes by youth doubled between 2011 and 2012 as advertising more than doubled from $7.2 million to $20.8 million.
Using a side by side presentation showing cigarette ads then and now, Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.), Diana DeGette (Co.), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.) charge that the $2 billion industry is taking advantage of the absence of regulation to market to young smokers. They "appear to be using exactly the same advertising and promotional techniques that were used for decades for cigarette manufacturers to hook teenagers on their products," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.
The letter and "flashbacks" presentation was delivered Monday the same day the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (Sfta) was on the Hill to talk with policymakers about the industry's unique legislative needs, its contribution to the U.S. economy, and why it should not be classified as a tobacco product.
Because e-cigarettes are not defined as a tobacco product, they are exempt from the regulations established under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act.
Ad creatives there are only so many ways to pitch the smoking experience. So it should come as no surprise that Democrats could find eerily common themes between the traditional cigarette ads of the 50s and 60s, and the e-cig ads of today.
For example, "tough guys": Lee Marvin for Pall Mall and Stephen Dorff for Blu E-Cigarettes. For a little sex appeal, compare Eva Gabor for Camels and Jenny McCarthy for Blu E-Cigarettes.
The Democrats have tracked e-cigarette ads running during the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, and on ESPN, reaching a general audience of 10 million, "many of them children, teens or young adults," the lawmakers wrote.
In print, ads are running in magazines such as Rolling Stone, a publication that has a broad demographic readership and was once a mainstay of tobacco advertising.
There is even a cartoon counterpart to R.J. Reynolds' Joe Camel. Blu's website (which is restricted to 18 years and older) has "Mr. Cool" and eJuiceMonkeys.com and Magic Puff City E-cigarettes like to use cartoon monkeys to sell their products.
E-Cigarette companies are also sponsoring sporting events and athletes, like NASCAR (also a traditional cigarette staple), music festivals like Bonnaroo. NJOY e-cigarettes was an official sponsor of New York and London fashion weeks.