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How e-cigarette brands are trying to link vaping with mental health

The tobacco industry has long used themes of stress relief and relaxation to sell its products, a marketing strategy that many vape brands are now using with claims that their products are relaxing, calming, and a way to “stay sane.”

Research shows nicotine can worsen anxiety symptoms and intensify feelings of depression. The common misconception that nicotine relieves stress, anxiety, and depression, may be rooted in the cycle of nicotine withdrawal.  Irritability, anxiety, and depression are some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and using nicotine relieves these symptoms temporarily. The tobacco industry has also invested significant resources to connect tobacco with mental health, including giving away cigarettes to psychiatric facilities, supporting research that positions cigarettes as a way to self-medicate, as well using stress relief themes in marketing.

As youth e-cigarette use remains at epidemic levels and many young people report mental health concerns amid the pandemic, these marketing themes can be seen among many vape products.

Marketing vaping as calming

Researchers at Stanford University’s Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising have documented several marketing examples from vape brands that use imagery or captions that align with calmness and relaxation.

For example, the popular disposable e-cigarette Puff Bar, which appeared to be advertising to young people in their bedrooms during the pandemic, released an ad that stated: “Stay sane with Puff Bar … it’s the perfect escape from the back-to-back zoom calls, parental texts, and WFH stress.” MOTI PIIN, another disposable vape brand, uses Instagram to attract customers with captions like “Half days off today! Now I am having a cup of jasmine tea, vaping, and basking in the sun. Relaxed and enjoyable!” Another vaping brand even promotes its product as a sleeping aid. Vuse – a brand from tobacco giant Reynolds American with sales that jumped 59% in the first half of 2021 – advertises to “take your break, your way.”

Using Zen-like names

Brands are also using flavor names like “Mellow state of mind,” “Bliss,” and “Chillax.” The names of the brands themselves can also tap into these themes, including Kush Relax, Mr. Smiley, and Zen e-liquid.

“Ads work to convince consumers that e-cigs would calm the smoker when he felt nervous, or pep him up when he felt sluggish. This theme features ads from a variety of e-cig brands, all proclaiming e-cigs to have a calming and relaxing effect on the individual,” Stanford researchers wrote.