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“Smoking Revolution”

A Content Analysis of Electronic Cigarette Retail Websites
  • Rachel A. Grana
    Affiliations
    Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California
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  • Pamela M. Ling
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Pamela M. Ling, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, 530 Parnassus Ave., Suite 366, San Francisco CA 94143
    Affiliations
    Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California

    Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California
    Search for articles by this author

      Background

      Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been increasingly available and marketed in the U.S. since 2007. As patterns of product adoption are frequently driven and reinforced by marketing, it is important to understand the marketing claims encountered by consumers.

      Purpose

      To describe the main advertising claims made on branded e-cigarette retail websites.

      Methods

      Websites were retrieved from two major search engines in 2011 using iterative searches with the following terms: electronic cigarette, e-cigarette, e-cig, and personal vaporizer. Fifty-nine websites met inclusion criteria, and 13 marketing claims were coded for main marketing messages in 2012.

      Results

      Ninety-five percent of the websites made explicit or implicit health-related claims, 64% had a smoking cessation–related claim, 22% featured doctors, and 76% claimed that the product does not produce secondhand smoke. Comparisons to cigarettes included claims that e-cigarettes were cleaner (95%) and cheaper (93%). Eighty-eight percent stated that the product could be smoked anywhere and 71% mentioned using the product to circumvent clean air policies. Candy, fruit, and coffee flavors were offered on most sites. Youthful appeals included images or claims of modernity (73%); increased social status (44%); enhanced social activity (32%); romance (31%); and use by celebrities (22%).

      Conclusions

      Health claims and smoking-cessation messages that are unsupported by current scientific evidence are frequently used to sell e-cigarettes. Implied and overt health claims, the presence of doctors on websites, celebrity endorsements, and the use of characterizing flavors should be prohibited.
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