Gateway to Addiction? A Survey of Popular Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Targeted Marketing to Youth

Below are the Executive Summary and Key Findings from this report


Gateway to addiction

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals.(1) They contain cartridges filled with flavors and chemicals, including the highly addictive substance nicotine, which are vaporized into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. Many e-cigarettes are manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes and mimic the act of smoking.(2)


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarette use is growing rapidly.(3) However, these products are currently not subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes. For example, federal laws and regulations prohibit traditional cigarettes from being sold to persons younger than 18 years of age, distributed as free samples, advertised on television and radio, and having characterizing candy and fruit flavors that appeal to children. There is no federal ban on the use of such tactics by e-cigarette manufacturers. In the absence of federal regulation, some e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be using marketing tactics similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry to sell their products to minors. To address growing questions over e-cigarettes and the marketing of these products, on September 26, 2013, Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Representative Henry A. Waxman (DCA), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed(D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) launched an investigation into the practices of nine commonly sold e-cigarette brands. This report draws from written responses provided by the companies in response to this investigation. In instances where companies did not provide complete responses or simply did not respond to a question, supplemental information was gathered from company websites and through reviewing other publically available information.


Findings in Brief

The findings of this analysis demonstrate the need for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act quickly to issue e-cigarette regulations.


Major findings:

  • All surveyed companies appear to use various marketing practices that appeal to youth.

For instance:

  • Eight e-cigarette companies promote their products through sponsored or sampling events, many of which appear to be youth-oriented. In 2012 and 2013 alone, six of the surveyed companies sponsored or provided free samples at 348 events.(4)
  • Seven e-cigarette companies air television and radio advertisements during events and programs, including those with youth viewership. Blu’s commercials “have aired thousands of times at various times of the day and night on 48 networks,” and NJOY has advertised during programs including the Super Bowl, an event that reaches a substantial audience of youth under age 18.
  • Six e-cigarette companies market e-cigarettes in flavors that could appeal to children and teens. For example, e-cigarette manufacturers are marketing flavors like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint.
  • E-cigarette manufacturers have significantly increased marketing spending, more than doubling expenditures between 2012 and 2013. In total, six e-cigarette companies spent $59.3 million in 2013 to market e-cigarettes.


Additional findings:

  • There is wide variation in e-cigarette industry point-of-sale practices. One e-cigarette company reported that it does not maintain any policy barring sales to minors. Other companies have policies barring such sales, but these vary in scope and the level of company oversight.
  • Four e-cigarette companies use celebrity spokespeople to market their products and depict e-cigarette smoking as glamorous. For example, celebrities have appeared in advertisements and at a prominent music festival.
  • Seven e-cigarette companies utilize social media to promote their products. While some companies impose age restrictions to prevent youth access to their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube content, three companies – Eonsmoke, VMR, and Lead by Sales – do not utilize any age restriction options for social media accounts.
  • E-cigarette product warning labels lack uniformity and may confuse consumers. While some manufacturers’ warning labels are succinct, make clear that e-cigarettes don’t offer health benefits, and detail the health risks associated with nicotine, others do not.
  • Six e-cigarette companies support some form of regulation, such as restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teenagers, a ban of the usage of television to market e-cigarettes, a prohibition on characterizing flavors, restricting online sales, and regulation of e-cigarettes at the point-of-sale.




2.   Legacy Foundation, E-cigarette policy: the FDA should promptly exercise regulatory authority over ecigarettes (January 2014).

3.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Notes from the Field: Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students – United States, 2011-2012 (Sept. 6, 2013) (online at

4. Altria has held sampling events but declined to provide an itemized list; R.J. Reynolds provided a list of all locations where sampling events were held through October 31, 2013. The total number of events in 2012 and 2013 is based on the conservative assumption that one event was held at each of the R.J. Reynolds’ sampling locations.