Exposure to advertisements for e-cigarettes may decrease the perceived health risks of occasional tobacco smoking, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge, prompting concern that this may lead more young people to experiment with smoking.
Estimates suggest that among children who try smoking, between one third and one half are likely to become regular smokers within two to three years. However, young people are now more likely to experiment with e-cigarettes than they are with tobacco cigarettes. For example, a 2014 study found that 22% of children aged 11-15 in England had experimented with e-cigarettes, compared to 18% for tobacco cigarettes.
While we can be optimistic that the adverts don’t seem to make tobacco smoking more appealing to young people, they do appear to make occasional smoking seem less harmful.
There is concern that the increasing exposure of children to e-cigarette adverts could be contributing to high rates of experimentation; in the US, adolescents’ exposure to e-cigarette adverts on TV more than trebled between 2011 to 2013. E-cigarette brands often market themselves as helping people quit smoking and as healthier and cheaper alternatives to tobacco cigarettes.
In this study from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge, and the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, and published today in the journal Tobacco Control, more than 400 English children aged 11-16 who had never smoked or ‘vaped’ previously were recruited and randomly allocated to one of three groups. One group was shown ten adverts that depicted e-cigarettes as glamorous, a second group was shown ten adverts that portrayed them as healthy, and a third control group was shown no adverts.
Petrescu, D, Vasiljevic, M, Pepper, JK, Ribisl, KM, Marteau, TM . What is the impact of e-cigarette adverts on children’s perceptions of tobacco smoking? An experimental study. Tobacco Control; 6 Sept 2016; DOI: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-052940