Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered nicotine delivery devices that have become popular among smokers. We conducted an experiment to understand adult smokers’ responses to e-cigarette advertisements and investigate the impact of ads’ arguments and imagery.Methods
A US national sample of smokers who had never tried e-cigarettes (n=3253) participated in a between-subjects experiment. Smokers viewed an online advertisement promoting e-cigarettes using one of three comparison types (emphasising similarity to regular cigarettes, differences or neither) with one of three images, for nine conditions total. Smokers then indicated their interest in trying e-cigarettes.Results
Ads that emphasised differences between e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes elicited more interest than ads without comparisons (p<0.01), primarily due to claims about e-cigarettes’ lower cost, greater healthfulness and utility for smoking cessation. However, ads that emphasised the similarities of the products did not differ from ads without comparisons. Ads showing a person using an e-cigarette created more interest than ads showing a person without an e-cigarette (p<0.01).Conclusions
Interest in trying e-cigarettes was highest after viewing ads with messages about differences between regular and electronic cigarettes and ads showing product use. If e-cigarettes prove to be harmful or ineffective cessation devices, regulators might restrict images of e-cigarette use in advertising, and public health messages should not emphasise differences between regular and electronic cigarettes. To inform additional regulations, future research should seek to identify what advertising messages and features appeal to youth.