Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Deceptive Marketing by E-Cigarette Companies

By Layla HoodPublished April 25, 2014

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Many young people, including high school students, are unaware that they may be smoking e-cigarettes that can sometimes contain the addictive ingredient, nicotine. \r\n\r\n
By Layla Hood, 04/25/2014


Electronic cigarettes, or E-cigarettes, were initially introduced as a smoking cessation product. These battery-powered tubes are able to turn liquid into a vapor mist that can be smoked.  Companies that produce these products claim that they are healthier than traditional tobacco cigarettes because they do not contain tobacco.  However, many of these products contain various levels of nicotine.  This substance has addictive properties.  In addition to being an addictive substance, withdrawal from nicotine can have many negative effects, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain, and headaches.  Many public health officials have voiced concerns that the addictive nature of nicotine could serve as a gateway into cigarette smoking or the abuse of other addictive substances. 

Since e-cigarettes are a relatively new product and do not contain tobacco, the FDA does not regulate their sales.  Unfortunately, this means that these e-cigarettes are being marketed to young people, even high schoolers.  To further complicate the situation, many companies selling e-cigarettes have begun to market their products under different names, such as hookah pens, e-hookahs, or vaping pens.  While these products are marketed under different names usually not associated with nicotine or addiction, they can contain the substance. This deception has resulted in the growth of e-cigarette popularity amongst high schoolers.  One study showed that many students had reported they had never used an e-cigarette, only vaping pens, which is problematic considering the growth of its use not only among young people, but the amount of consumption as well.

The FDA is moving to regulate the e-cigarette industry, especially with regards to advertising.  Last year, sales of e-cigarettes doubled and have been projected to surpass cigarette sales within the decade.  The government is not only proposing that it have regulatory authority over e-cigarettes, but is considering banning TV and radio advertising as well.  Due to the lack of governmental regulation in the past, many large tobacco companies have been pouring money into advertising these e-smoking products in order to make smoking more glamorous, potentially boosting cigarette sales in the younger population. Furthermore, the vape pens, which can contain addictive nicotine, are creating a new market from which these companies can profit from addiction and unhealthy habits. 

While e-cigarettes were invented to encourage a movement away from smoking and tobacco and nicotine addiction, the profitability of this new industry has led to unethical marketing.  Some states have an age limit on the sale of these products, but a majority do not.  Additionally, the sensationalization of e-cigarettes is popularizing a potentially harmful activity among our younger generation.  Not only should the FDA continue its effort to regulate this industry, the deceitful advertising methods should be made more transparent to properly inform users of possible health concerns and addictions that could result from their use.