18B.2 Advertising and promotion

Last updated: January 2019     

Suggested citation: Greenhalgh, EM, & Scollo, MM. InDepth 18B: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2017. Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-18-harm-reduction/indepth-18b-e-cigarettes

The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes has been largely attributed to aggressive promotion over the Internet.1 Even prior to major promotion by tobacco companies, one study found that a large proportion of people in the US were aware of the existence of e-cigarettes, naming television, word of mouth, and the Internet as their top three sources of information.2 Between 2009 and 2010, awareness doubled from 16.4% to 32.2%3, and has continued to increase over time.4 E-cigarettes are now widely promoted using a range of channels, including online through banner and video adverts and social media (primarily YouTube and Twitter), print media, television, and in shops.5 Globally there were 75 news stories per day on the topic of e-cigarettes in 2018, compared with eight stories per day in 2013.6   

E-cigarette promotional spending has rapidly increased over time.7 Revenue spent on advertising of e-cigarettes in the US is estimated to have trebled between 2011 and 2012 (from $US6.4 million to $18.3 million) and reached $88.1 million in 2014.8 Almost 40% of this expenditure was attributed to Altria’s promotion of Markten.9 Vuse (R. J. Reynolds) spending on television marketing alone in 2015 and 2016 exceeded US$16 million. On the other hand, marketing expenditure for Juul between 2015 and 2017 was relatively moderate, with its enormous growth attributed to a range of innovative and engaging campaigns on social media.10

18B.2.1 Content of e-cigarette advertisements

The advertising of e-cigarettes is frequently aimed at smokers, often comparing electronic and tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes are frequently marketed as healthier, cheaper, more socially acceptable, and more amenable to use with indoor smoking restrictions in comparison with tobacco cigarettes. Despite limited evidence on their efficacy for this purpose, they are also frequently marketed as a useful cessation aid.11 Mass media campaigns sponsored by Public Health England early in 2019 have specifically referred to e-cigarettes as a useful tool.12

An analysis of print advertisements in the US found that the advertisements typically implied use for harm reduction, or as a partial alternative to cigarettes (dual use) and often incorporated the theme of individuality, sociability, and sexuality. Particular demographics were targeted depending on the publication; for example, a blu ad in Rolling Stone magazine showed a shirtless man lying in bed next to an overweight, semi-naked woman with the words ‘no regrets’ boldly highlighted. In contrast, a blu ad in Us Weekly showed a stylish, attractive woman with the text: ‘Freedom never goes out of fashion… blu produces no tobacco smoke and no ash, only vapor, making it the ultimate accessory….Step out in style with blu.’13

Similarly, an analysis of e-cigarette retail websites found that almost all made explicit or implicit health-related claims—including many that featured doctors—and the majority had a smoking cessation-related claim. E-cigarettes are generally portrayed as cleaner, cheaper, and useful for circumventing smokefree policies. Celebrity endorsements, cartoons, flavours, and implications of increased social status may be particularly appealing to young people,14-16 and such forms of advertising have been likened to traditional cigarette advertising.15, 17, 18

18B.2.2 Effects of e-cigarette advertising on adults

Several experimental studies have shown an association between exposure to e-cigarette advertising and intention or desire to use an e-cigarette among young adults in the general population19, 20  Among smokers, e-cigarette advertising appears to increase desire both to use e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes,21, 22 and among ex-smokers, exposure to e-cigarette adverts can increase desire to smoke and weaken confidence in abstaining.23  

A study of smokers’ reactions to e-cigarette advertising has found that their interest in trying e-cigarettes is highest after viewing ads with messages about differences between regular and electronic cigarettes, such as claims about e-cigarettes’ lower cost, greater ‘healthfulness’ and utility for smoking cessation, as well as when they see advertisements showing someone actually using the product.24

18B.2.3 Effects of e-cigarette advertising on children

Between 2011 and 2013, exposure to television advertisements for e-cigarettes increased among US youth (aged 12-17) by 256%, and in young adults (aged 18-24) by 321%.25  A growing body of experimental studies have examined the effects of e-cigarette advertising on the appeal of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes among children. As with adults, children exposed to e-cigarette adverts report more positive attitudes toward and curiosity about and intention to use the products.26-29 Correlational30-34 and longitudinal35 studies have also found an association between e-cigarette marketing exposure and greater use of e-cigarettes. Outside of Australia (where such displays are banned), exposure to tobacco marketing in retail outlets may also increase adolescents’ willingness to use e-cigarettes.36 In 2016 in the US, exposure to e-cigarette advertising was highest for retail stores (68.0%), followed by the internet (40.6%), television (37.7%), and newspapers and magazines.37

While cigarette websites generally require age-verified accounts for entry, a recent analysis found that the majority of e-cigarette websites required accounts only for making purchases.38 Adverts promote perceptions among children that e-cigarettes are fun, cool, healthier/safer than tobacco cigarettes, and can be used to circumvent smokefree policies.26, 27 Flavoured e-cigarette adverts appear to elicit greater appeal and interest in buying and trying e-cigarettes than ads for non-flavoured products.39   

Studies to date have not found evidence that exposure to e-cigarette adverts increases the appeal of tobacco smoking among children,39, 40 althoughsuch exposure may reduce the perceived harms of occasional tobacco smoking.40, 41 A longitudinal study found that receptivity to e-cigarette marketing was associated with later conventional cigarette smoking.42

18B.2.4 Retailing of e-cigarettes

Like conventional cigarettes, the majority of in-person e-cigarette retailers are supermarkets, convenience stores and service stations. However, the number of specialist e-cigarette shops (’vape shops’) has grown in the US and UK, and in France, Belgium, and Switzerland vape shops serve as the main retail channel. Following the tobacco retail display ban in the UK, there were reports that some shop owners replaced closed tobacco cabinets with vaping stands.43 In Australia, there are a smaller number of speciality vape shops; however, such stores are prohibited from selling nicotine products (see Section 18B.8). 

Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click here. ( Last updated March 2020)


1. Rom O, Pecorelli A, Valacchi G, and Reznick AZ. Are e-cigarettes a safe and good alternative to cigarette smoking? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2015; 1340:65–74. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25557889

2. Zhu S-H, Gamst A, Lee M, Cummins S, Yin L, et al. The use and perception of electronic cigarettes and snus among the US population. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8(10):e79332. Available from: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0079332 - pone-0079332-g002

3. Regan A, Promoff G, Dube S, and Arrazola R. Electronic nicotine delivery systems: Adult use and awareness of the 'e-cigarette' in the USA. Tobacco Control, 2013; 22:19–23. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22034071

4. Xu Y, Guo Y, Liu K, Liu Z, and Wang X. E-cigarette awareness, use, and harm perception among adults: A meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS ONE, 2016; 11(11):e0165938. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27861501

5. Bauld L, Angus K, de Andrade M, and Ford A, Electronic cigarette marketing: Current research and policy. Cancer Research UK; 2016. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/electronic_cigarette_marketing_report_final.pdf.

6. Ayers JW, Dredze M, Leas EC, Caputi TL, Allem JP, et al. Next generation media monitoring: Global coverage of electronic nicotine delivery systems (electronic cigarettes) on Bing, Google and Twitter, 2013-2018. PLoS ONE, 2018; 13(11):e0205822. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6214510/pdf/pone.0205822.pdf

7. Kornfield R, Huang J, Vera L, and Emery SL. Rapidly increasing promotional expenditures for e-cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 2015; 24(2):110–1. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24789603

8. Kim AE, Arnold KY, and Makarenko O. E-cigarette advertising expenditures in the US, 2011-2012. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014; 46(4):409–12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24650844

9. Cantrell J, Emelle B, Ganz O, Hair EC, and Vallone D. Rapid increase in e-cigarette advertising spending as altria's markten enters the marketplace. Tobacco Control, 2016; 25(e1):e16–e8. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/25/e1/e16.short

10. Huang J, Duan Z, Kwok J, Binns S, Vera LE, et al. Vaping versus JUULing: How the extraordinary growth and marketing of JUUL transformed the US retail e-cigarette market. Tobacco Control, 2018. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29853561

11. Zhu SH, Sun JY, Bonnevie E, Cummins SE, Gamst A, et al. Four hundred and sixty brands of e-cigarettes and counting: Implications for product regulation. Tobacco Control, 2014; 23 Suppl 3(suppl 3):iii3–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24935895

12. Flint SW and Jones AW. The irresponsible promotion of e-cigarettes and swaptober. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 2018; 6(1):e3–e4. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29217461

13. Richardson A, Ganz O, Stalgaitis C, Abrams D, and Vallone D. Noncombustible tobacco product advertising: How companies are selling the new face of tobacco. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2013; 16(5):606–14. Available from: http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/content/16/5/606.full

14. Grana RA and Ling PM. "Smoking revolution": A content analysis of electronic cigarette retail websites. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014; 46(4):395–403. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24650842

15. Allem JP, Cruz TB, Unger JB, Toruno R, Herrera J, et al. Return of cartoon to market e-cigarette-related products. Tobacco Control, 2018. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30049688

16. Knutzen KE, Moran MB, and Soneji S. Combustible and electronic tobacco and marijuana products in hip-hop music videos, 2013-2017. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2018; 178(12):1608–15. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30326017

17. Ben Taleb Z and Ebrahimi Kalan M. World vapor expo 2017: E-cigarette marketing tactics. Tobacco Control, 2018; 27(e1):e81–e2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29540557

18. Stanford University Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. Cigs vs ecigs JUUL advertising images. SRITA,  2018. Available from: http://tobacco.stanford.edu/tobacco_main/images-comp.php?token2=fm_tn_st328.php&token1=fm_tn_img10799.php&theme_file=fm_tn_mt035.php&theme_name=Cigs%20vs.%20eCigs&subtheme_name=Cigs%20vs%20eCigs%20JUUL

19. Trumbo CW and Kim SJ. The effect of electronic cigarette advertising on intended use among college students. Addictive Behaviors, 2015; 46:77–81. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25827334

20. Villanti AC, Rath JM, Williams VF, Pearson JL, Richardson A, et al. Impact of exposure to electronic cigarette advertising on susceptibility and trial of electronic cigarettes and cigarettes in US young adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2016; 18(5):1331–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26574551

21. King AC, Smith LJ, Fridberg DJ, Matthews AK, McNamara PJ, et al. Exposure to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ends) visual imagery increases smoking urge and desire. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2016; 30(1):106–12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26618797

22. Maloney EK and Cappella JN. Does vaping in e-cigarette advertisements affect tobacco smoking urge, intentions, and perceptions in daily, intermittent, and former smokers? Health Commun, 2016; 31(1):129–38. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25758192

23. Durkin SJ, Bayly M, and Wakefield MA. Can e-cigarette ads undermine former smokers? An experimental study. Tobacco Regulatory Science, 2016; 2(3):263–77. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.18001/TRS.2.3.6

24. Pepper JK, Emery SL, Ribisl KM, Southwell BG, and Brewer NT. Effects of advertisements on smokers' interest in trying e-cigarettes: The roles of product comparison and visual cues. Tobacco Control, 2014; 23 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):iii31–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24935896

25. Duke JC, Lee YO, Kim AE, Watson KA, Arnold KY, et al. Exposure to electronic cigarette television advertisements among youth and young adults. Pediatrics, 2014; 134(1):e29–36. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24918224

26. Duke JC, Allen JA, Eggers ME, Nonnemaker J, and Farrelly MC. Exploring differences in youth perceptions of the effectiveness of electronic cigarette television advertisements. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2016; 18(5):1382–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26706908

27. Farrelly MC, Duke JC, Crankshaw EC, Eggers ME, Lee YO, et al. A randomized trial of the effect of e-cigarette tv advertisements on intentions to use e-cigarettes. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2015; 49(5):686–93. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26163170

28. Margolis KA, Donaldson EA, Portnoy DB, Robinson J, Neff LJ, et al. E-cigarette openness, curiosity, harm perceptions and advertising exposure among u.S. Middle and high school students. Preventive Medicine, 2018; 112:119–25. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29673886

29. Stroup AM and Branstetter SA. Effect of e-cigarette advertisement exposure on intention to use e-cigarettes in adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 2018; 82:1–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29471130

30. Singh T, Agaku IT, Arrazola RA, Marynak KL, Neff LJ, et al. Exposure to advertisements and electronic cigarette use among US middle and high school students. Pediatrics, 2016; 137(5). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27244815

31. Mantey DS, Cooper MR, Clendennen SL, Pasch KE, and Perry CL. E-cigarette marketing exposure is associated with e-cigarette use among US youth. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 2016; 58(6):686–90. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27080732

32. Best C, Haseen F, van der Sluijs W, Ozakinci G, Currie D, et al. Relationship between e-cigarette point of sale recall and e-cigarette use in secondary school children: A cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 2016; 16(1):310. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27075888

33. Pu J and Zhang X. Exposure to advertising and perception, interest, and use of e-cigarettes among adolescents: Findings from the US national youth tobacco survey. Perspect Public Health, 2017; 137(6):322–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28379069

34. Collins L, Glasser AM, Abudayyeh H, Pearson JL, and Villanti AC. E-cigarette marketing and communication: How e-cigarette companies market e-cigarettes and the public engages with e-cigarette information. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2019; 21(1):14–24. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29315420

35. Camenga D, Gutierrez KM, Kong G, Cavallo D, Simon P, et al. E-cigarette advertising exposure in e-cigarette naive adolescents and subsequent e-cigarette use: A longitudinal cohort study. Addictive Behaviors, 2018; 81:78–83. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29432916

36. Dunbar MS, Martino SC, Setodji CM, and Shadel WG. Exposure to the tobacco power wall increases adolescents' willingness to use e-cigarettes in the future. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2018:nty112–nty. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29868869

37. Marynak K, Gentzke A, Wang TW, Neff L, and King BA. Exposure to electronic cigarette advertising among middle and high school students - United States, 2014-2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2018; 67(10):294–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29543786

38. O'Brien EK, Navarro MA, and Hoffman L. Mobile website characteristics of leading tobacco product brands: Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookah and cigars. Tobacco Control, 2018. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30166427

39. Vasiljevic M, Petrescu DC, and Marteau TM. Impact of advertisements promoting candy-like flavoured e-cigarettes on appeal of tobacco smoking among children: An experimental study. Tobacco Control, 2016; 25(e2):e107–e12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26781305

40. Petrescu DC, Vasiljevic M, Pepper JK, Ribisl KM, and Marteau TM. What is the impact of e-cigarette adverts on children's perceptions of tobacco smoking? An experimental study. Tobacco Control, 2017; 26(4):421–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27601455

41. Vasiljevic M, St John Wallis A, Codling S, Couturier DL, Sutton S, et al. E-cigarette adverts and children's perceptions of tobacco smoking harms: An experimental study and meta-analysis. BMJ Open, 2018; 8(7):e020247. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30012646

42. Pierce JP, Sargent JD, Portnoy DB, White M, Noble M, et al. Association between receptivity to tobacco advertising and progression to tobacco use in youth and young adults in the path study. JAMA Pediatrics, 2018; 172(5):444–51. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29582078


43. Shapiro H. No fire, no smoke: The global state of tobacco harm reduction 2018. Knowledge-Action-Change, London 2018. Available from: https://gsthr.org/downloads/GSTHR%20Report/Global-State-of-Tobacco-Harm-Reduction-2018.pdf.