Intended for healthcare professionals


E-cigarette companies target youth, US congressional study finds

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 22 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2871
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

Makers of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, market their products to young people by sponsoring youth oriented events, advertising on media with young audiences, making products with flavors that appeal to children and teenagers, and handing out free samples at youth events, says an investigation commissioned by Democratic members of the US Congress.1

The investigation looked at the marketing practices of nine popular e-cigarette brands: Altria, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, NJOY, Eonsmoke, LOGIC, VMR, Lorillard, Green Smoke, and Lead by Sales, which makes White Cloud Cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that turn nicotine into an aerosol that can be inhaled. The devices often look like, and are smoked like, conventional cigarettes. The nicotine is packaged in cartridges and is often flavored.

Supporters of e-cigarettes argue that the devices offer consumers a healthier alternative to tobacco and can help smokers wean themselves off regular cigarettes. But opponents argue that e-cigarettes are being used to promote cigarettes, particularly to young people, by glamorizing smoking and addicting users to nicotine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students had risen sharply: for example, it doubled among high school students from 4.7% to 10.0% during 2011-12.2

Currently, e-cigarettes are not subject to the federal regulations that apply to tobacco products. Those regulations prohibit traditional cigarettes from being sold to people under 18, distributed as free samples, advertised on television and radio, or sold as candy flavored or fruit flavored products that appeal to children. The US Food and Drug Administration has announced its intention to regulate e-cigarettes, but it has not yet done so.

The congressional investigation found that the companies had promoted their products at such youth oriented events as music concerts, sporting events, and comedy shows, often providing free samples; by running advertisements on television and radio programs with substantial youth audiences, including the broadcast of the National Football League championship, the Super Bowl; and marketing products with flavors such as Cherry Crush, Peachy Keen, and Chocolate Treat, which would appeal to children and teenagers.

“The findings of this investigation reveal that e-cigarette companies are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum that currently exists to market their products to youth,” the report concluded.

The report called on the FDA to assert its authority to regulate e-cigarettes and prohibit selling and marketing these products to children and teenagers, distributing free samples, or promoting the products through social media and event sponsorship.

Six of the e-cigarette companies studied told investigators that they supported some form of regulation, such as restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teenagers.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2871