Exposure to electronic cigarette advertising may increase former smokers' desire to start smoking regular cigarettes again, new research has found.
More than 800 former smokers were shown e-cigarette advertisements that had screened on television or online as part of the study, published in the journal Tobacco Regulatory Science. While tobacco advertising is almost completely banned in Australia, there are currently few restrictions on advertising of e-cigarettes.
The e-cigarette ads featured in the study used similar techniques to those found in tobacco advertising from decades past. These included suggesting that e-cigarettes can increase a person's social status and romantic appeal; and portraying people who use e-cigarettes as independent and rebellious.
An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a liquid to a temperature at which the liquid vapourises. The vapour is inhaled from the device and exhaled by the user in an action that is very like smoking a cigarette.
Lead author Associate Professor Sarah Durkin, of Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said the study found that after former smokers had viewed e-cigarette ads, they were more likely to have a heightened urge or susceptibility to use regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, compared to former smokers who had viewed ads for other products.
"The e-cigarette finding is unsurprising, since the aim of these ads is to encourage people to use e-cigarettes. What is concerning is that the e-cigarette ads also reminded former smokers of smoking tobacco cigarettes, increased their desire to smoke tobacco cigarettes and reduced their confidence to abstain.
"The findings suggest e-cigarette ads may be acting as a form of tobacco advertising, piquing interest and desire for tobacco cigarettes."
Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said the study underlined the importance of e-cigarette legislation before the Victorian Parliament including bans on advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes at point of sale.
"We cannot risk undermining former smokers' resolve to stay quit or undoing the decades of social change that has Australian children today turning their backs on smoking and nicotine addiction."
"We'd like to see the Federal Government take action to ensure that e-cigarette advertising is subject to the same restrictions as tobacco products across Australia," Dr White said.
"With the tobacco industry increasingly acquiring many independent e-cigarette companies, we can expect that the public will be exposed to more glamorous and sophisticated advertising in years to come, if action is not taken."