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E-Cigarette Advertising vs. Alcohol Marketing – A Comparison

by · November 13, 2013

Liquor vs. E-Cigarette AdsThere was a time (not that long ago) when traditional cigarette ads littered the pages of newspapers, magazines, television and almost every form of media. They depicted famous celebrities, beautiful models, rugged mountain men, doctors, cartoon characters and even Santa Clause smoking cigarettes. Over time, it became apparent that smoking was not only unhealthy – but deadly – and tobacco became heavily regulated. Critics claimed that many of these ads targeted children, and rightfully so, but do the e-cigarette ads of today deserve the same scrutiny? What about alcohol ads, why don’t they receive the same harsh criticisms?

Blamed for Targeting Children

When it comes to questionable advertising techniques, the media has been quick to point fingers at the fast growing electronic cigarette industry. In a recent USA Today story, the author suggested that e-cig companies are using the same controversial tactics used by tobacco companies just a few decades ago. With no federal regulations in-place (yet), e-cig companies have free reign to market their products however they choose and many claim they’re targeting kids.

Electronic cigarette makers have been under heavy scrutiny by the media and lawmakers. Just a few weeks ago, attorney generals from 37 states wrote a letter to the FDA voicing their concerns. The main evidence cited by most critics is the wide range of sweet and “candy-like” flavors and the use of attractive and famous spokespeople in e-cigarette advertisements – the same strategy used by most liquor companies. Even though alcohol causes 80,000 deaths each year and a variety of serious medical conditions, it doesn’t receive nearly as much government or media attention. Take a look at these e-cigarette ads and compare them to some recent liquor advertisements:

Trendy & Cool – Marketing to Youth?

E-cig companies are accused of using celebrities to raise the ‘cool factor’ of their products.

Trendy MarketingHip & Stylish – Attracting Teenagers?

Stylish women, fashionable clothes and hip atmospheres aren’t only appealing to teens.

Stylish AdvertisementsSex Sells! In Almost Every Industry…

Sex sells… it appeals to just above everyone… teenagers and adults.

Sexy AdvertisingAre These Flavored Liquors Targeting Children?

Critics often claim that sweet and candy-like e-cigarette flavors are attracting kids, but there isn’t much controversy about these tasty flavored vodka drinks:
Flavored Alcohol Drinks

It’s An Effective Strategy – For Adults

As you can see from these examples, electronic cigarette companies are employing many of the same tactics used by liquor and beer companies. Actually, electronic cigarette ads are quite tame when you consider the overtly sexual imagery used in some liquor and beer ads. Large breasted, bikini clad women are a staple in many of these advertisements – undoubtedly a huge attraction to teenage boys. Other ads incorporate trendy and stylish women – appealing to teenage girls struggling to be accepted and popular. And the star power of alcohol spokespeople far outweighs that of electronic cigarette companies – think Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs, Bruce Willis, Zach Galifianakis, Jessica Alba and Will Ferrel – just to name a few that have been featured in recent alcohol advertisements.

But the biggest issue at the forefront of many critic’s complaints, is the use of tasty flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, cherry, bubble gum, gummy bear and hundreds of different dessert and candy-flavored varieties. Kids are undoubtedly attracted to these flavors – BUT SO ARE ADULTS! One of the many benefits of choosing e-cigarettes over tobacco is the wide array of flavor choices. Smokers are no longer limited to just tobacco and menthol, giving them more options and more reasons to make the switch.  Alcohol companies have been making flavored drinks for years, but they rarely receive the same level of criticism. Here are just some of the latest alcohol flavors:

Dessert-Flavored Alcohol Drinks:
  • 360 Glazed Donut Vodka
  • Bacardi Wolf Berry Rum
  • Cupcake Original Vodka
  • Georgi Waffle Vodka
  • Hardluck Candy – Lemon Drop
  • Mama Walker’s Blueberry Pancake
  • Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie
  • Pinnacle Strawberry Shortcake Vodka
  • Segrams Grape Twisted Gin
  • Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka
  • Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Vodka
  • Smirnoff Spiced Root Beer
  • Stoli Chocolate Razberi
  • Three Olives Bubble Gum-Flavored Vodka
  • Three Olives Froot Loops Vodka
  • Red Stag Black Cherry Wiskey
  • Van Gogh PB & J Vodka

The truth is, adults are just as drawn to stylish and trendy advertisements as kids, and everyone loves sweet flavored deserts and candy treats. Critics will point to one or two (rare) examples where small, virtually unknown e-cig companies use cartoon-like logos or likenesses, but this is far from commonplace. With such a huge population of adult smokers available, it’s safe to say that electronic cigarette companies have no need (or desire) to market to children.

E-Cigarette Companies Being Vilified

demonize-e-cigarettesSo why is it OK for alcohol companies to use attractive spokespeople and offer dozens of tasty flavor choices, but e-cig companies are being vilified for using many of the same techniques? Some of the criticism can undoubtedly be blamed on the long and troubling history of the tobacco industry. Even though electronic cigarettes DO NOT contain tobacco, and big tobacco companies just entered the e-cig market a few years ago, people associate these devices with smoking and big tobacco’s unscrupulous track record. Because big tobacco companies deceived the public and purposely targeted children in the past, many assume that e-cigarette companies have the same ill intent.

But an even bigger issue is the opposition of big pharmaceutical and tobacco companies who stand to loose billions if electronic cigarettes gain widespread popularity. Most of the serious medical conditions caused by smoking cigarettes are treated with expensive pharmaceutical drugs; and smoking cessation products, like the patch, are likely to become obsolete or significantly less popular if people choose e-cigarettes instead. On the other side of the opposition aisle, big tobacco companies are dealing with rapidly growing competition, and one of the best ways to stifle it’s growth – or put it out of business completely – is to support strict government regulations; accomplished in large part by vilifying the industry they helped to inspire.

E-Cigarettes Are Not Tobacco…

No matter how you feel about the product or the industry, electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco and lack virtually all of harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. THEY SHOULD NOT BE CLASSIFIED AS SUCH or be limited by the same harsh restrictions. So far, no adverse health effects have been associated with electronic cigarettes, yet the alcohol industry is responsible for at least 80,000 deaths each year and the media seems unconcerned about their marketing techniques. Most people acknowledge that kids should not have access to these devices, but comparing electronic cigarette companies to the tobacco industry of the past is not only unfair – it’s inaccurate. Electronic cigarettes help smokers quit and expose them to significantly less health risks. For now, consumers have a wide array of choices and full access to these products, but if the government, pharmaceutical and big tobacco companies have their way, that may be a thing of the past.

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