Imagine a cheery Santa Claus peering down from a billboard and talking to you about vaping an electronic cigarette. As unimaginable as this sounds, this is precisely the approach used by Vapor Shark electronic cigarette (eCig) company to promote its product.
eCig companies such as Vapor Shark, Eon Smoke and Nicolites have all used billboards to promote their products and draw consumer attention. In the Vapor Shark ad, Santa Claus with an eCig in his hand says, “I don't always vape. But when I do, I chose Vapor Shark. The use of Santa Claus to promote the eCig is a particularly inappropriate technique used by the company to normalize the product and capture the attention of young children.
Another technique commonly used by eCig companies is to promote the health benefits of the product. The billboard for Nicolites contains the slogan, “Kick Butts,” which is misleading as it clearly promotes a cessation message. Worse, it could also very easily be confused with the “Kick Butt” smoking cessation campaign.
This avenue of advertising is just yet another way in which eCig companies are repeating history and following in the footsteps of the tobacco industry. Till it was banned by the Master Settlement Agreement, in 1998, billboards were commonly used by conventional tobacco products for its “high impression” rate and the low cost of reaching out to thousands of potential consumers. In addition, market research from the tobacco companies found that billboards were effective with children and contributed to their misperception that smoking and tobacco use is a normal, acceptable part of everyday life. Getting rid of billboards is a step that is consistent with efforts to decrease the rate of youth smoking. It is hoped that just as the FDA banned use of billboard advertising for combustible tobacco products it will do so too for eCigs.