The “Wild West” marketing practices of the electronic cigarette (e-cig) industry has led to the reintroduction of cartoon characters in tobacco advertising. The collection of e-cig ads under this theme contains cartoons, anthropomorphic animals, and animated characters resembling those that appear in most children’s movies and shows.
For instance Blu, a leading brand of e-cigs, created a two-and-half minute web commercial in a style often seen in animated shows and graphic novels, mostly popular among youth. Another e-cig company, CravinVapes features a cartoon chimpanzee as one of its product mascots (“Johnny Chimpo”), a “vaping” monkey whose resemblance could potentially hold a massive appeal to children who enjoy Curious George, Donkey Kong, and Camp Lazlo.
The practice of using cartoon characters to entice youth consumers is not new to the tobacco industry. In 1988, R.J. Reynolds initiated the now infamous Old Joe Camel campaign, for the Camel brand, which featured a cool dromedary cartoon character. This practice ended in 1998 when as part of the Masters Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and state litigators, tobacco companies agreed to a ban of using cartoons in cigarette advertising as an effort to reduce underage targeting.
Published studies have noted that tobacco advertisements that contain cartoon characters appeal to children. A 1991 article published in Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the Old Joe Camel advertisements "are far more successful at marketing Camel cigarettes to children than to adults" based on kids' ability to recall the character and find him appealing (1). There is a little reason to doubt that the use of cartoons in e-cigs will have any less impact on children.
1. DiFranza, Joseph R., MD, et al. "RJR Nabisco's Cartoon Camel Promotes Camel Cigarettes to Children." JAMA 1991;266:33149-3153.