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Research Article Research Article

How mobile marketing for e-cigarettes may be aimed at youth

A review of e-cigarette marketing on mobile channels shows that companies are emphasizing flavors and high-tech features, strategies that may attract youth.

Truth Initiative® researchers analyzed mobile e-cigarette advertisements from 2015 on up to 1,000 mobile apps and 2,500 websites. The results, published in Tobacco Control, help fill a gap in research on how e-cigarettes are marketed since there has been little research done on how the devices are advertised on mobile channels—an increasingly important venue for advertising. 

Researchers found that 29 percent of the ads featured flavored products, and one-third describe the product as being “cool” or “high-tech.” Analysis of the advertisements suggest a “focus on high-tech features, combined with an emphasis on flavor, may be a strategy to encourage experimentation by youth and new users,” said Jennifer Cantrell, managing director of Evaluation Science and Research at Truth Initiative. 

Many advertisements also focused on providing discounts, with 15 percent of advertisements containing coupons, and 85 percent driving traffic to e-cigarette brand websites and further discounts. Coupons and discounts are some of the tobacco industry’s top marketing strategies. They threaten to counteract the impact of tobacco taxes and raising the price of tobacco products, which is one of the most effective ways to drive down the smoking rate, especially among young people.

These findings underscore the importance of Food and Drug Administration regulation of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to limit the marketing and appeal of these products to young people. Truth Initiative has repeatedly called on the FDA to fully implement its regulation of e-cigarettes, especially in light of the rapid and continuous innovation in electronic nicotine products.

Given youth preference for flavors and technological innovations, and “marketers’ increasing sophistication in mobile targeting of potential customers, research and policy strategies are needed to effectively monitor the spend, characteristics, content, reach and impact” of mobile e-cigarette marketing, Cantrell said.

Key takeaways


29% of advertisements featured flavored products


1/3 of advertisements highlight the product as being "cool" or "high-tech"


15% of advertisements contained coupons