Censors Worry About 'E-Cigarette Ads Aimed at Youths' But Can't Identify Any


Blu eCig ad

"Officials Focus on E-Cigarette Ads Aimed at Youths," says the headline over a New York Times story about a gathering of state attorneys general in Park City, Utah. Which ads are those, and how old are these "youths"? The article never really answers either question, and you can tell from the lead that reporter Eric Lipton prefers to keep things vague:

State attorneys general must investigate, and consider taking legal action against, e-cigarette companies that appear to be using some of the same advertising tactics that once drew young adults into smoking, a Kentucky deputy attorney general told his law enforcement colleagues gathered here for a retreat to discuss emerging legal issues in states nationwide.

Since when is selling e-cigarettes (or conventional cigarettes) to adults, let alone telling them about the product, grounds for "legal action"? Lipton implies that states have the authority to censor or punish speech that offends them. They don't, even when the rationale is shielding minors from messages about adult products. They certainly do not have that power when the avowed goal is protecting adults from information that might lead them to buy products that certain state officials do not like.

Lipton reports that "one question debated at the gathering this week has been whether state attorneys general should try to force e-cigarette companies to comply with the same standards imposed on tobacco companies." Those standards, which include a ban on outdoor advertising, are part of the 1998 "master settlement agreement" that resolved state-sponsored litigation against the leading cigarette manufacturers. Since e-cigarette companies not only were not part of that litigation but did not exist when the lawsuits were settled, how can they possibly be compelled to follow the terms of that agreement?

Later in the article Lipton does mention "children," by which he presumably means people younger than 18, which most states and the Food and Drug Administration have set as the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes. What is the evidence that e-cigarette ads are "aimed at" children, as the headline asserts? Lipton mentions "e-cigarettes with flavors like Cherry Crush and Peach Schnapps, which are sold by the e-cigarette company Blu and may be particularly appealing to children." They also may be particularly appealing to adults. In fact, they are.

What else is there to the case that e-cigarette companies are luring children into nicotine habits? Not much:

[Sean Riley, Kentucky's chief deputy attorney general,] and Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, both ran through a series of recent e-cigarette advertisements that echo techniques once used by tobacco companies, like cartoon characters that are using e-cigarettes, or advertisements that feature celebrities like Courtney Love and Robert Pattinson.

The e-cigarette industry has also started advertising at sporting events where tobacco ads are banned. The problems are particularly acute, the officials said, with less traditional forms of advertising, like on YouTube and other social media sites.

You may be thinking that you have not noticed a whole lot of ads with cartoon characters using e-cigarettes. So what is Myers talking about? He is talking about "Bob," a short-lived comic-book-style character featured on Blu's website (which, for what it's worth, is officially restricted to "adults 18 years or older"). To Myers, Bob looks a lot like Joe Camel. Personally, I don't see it. In any event, Blu killed off Bob, anticipating precisely this sort of inane complaint, which is based on the demonstrably false premise that cartoons (like fruit flavors!) appeal only to children.

Similarly, Robert Pattinson, who became a celebrity by playing a dreamy vampire in the Twilight movies, may indeed have a special place in the hearts of tween girls, but presumably his appeal is wider than that. And Courtney Love? Are you kidding me? Does anyone under 18 even know who she is? Myers likewise argues that Steven Dorff and Jenny McCarthy, whom you may or may not remember from their heydays two decades ago, are particularly appealing to young people these days. He also maintains that advertising featuring "rugged men" (Steven Dorff again!) or sexy women is clearly intended for kids.

Myers is on firmer ground in suggesting that teenagers have been known to attend sporting events and use social media. But you know who else likes those things? Adults.

Critics such as Myers and Riley are implicitly arguing that e-cigarette ads should be limited to techniques that repel teenagers and, just to be extra safe, should never appear in settings where they might be seen by anyone younger than 18. Whether or not that position strikes you as reasonable, any attempt to enforce it by law would be clearly unconstitutional, so all this talk about "taking legal action" and imposing "standards" is nothing more than busybody bluster.

NEXT: Trial Begins in Fatal Shooting of Detroit Woman on Man's Porch

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  1. The government should ban e-cigarette ads aimed at douchebags of any age. Result: no more stupid ads of douches looking douchey.

  2. Kids these days just can’t get enough of ’90s celebs. It’s all they talk about on the Tweeter.

  3. Anything, of course, “for the children”.

  4. Something tells me that KY AG is not going against e-cigarettes “for the kids”. Smells like Bootleggers/Baptists to me.

    1. Northern Kentucky tried to ban smoking in restaurants a few years ago and the KY supreme court struck it down (which was awesome for us Cincinnati residents who can’t smoke in our own damn state!) Tobacco rules that state…that’s the only thing anyone in that state government is thinking about.

  5. I’ve still got some Camel Cash somewhere.

  6. Why do you hate the children, Reason?

  7. That Dorff ad has him specifically saying “We’re all adults here”. So, yeah, totally aimed at children!

    I don’t think I’d seen Stephen Dorff in anything since Cecil B. Demented before those ads came out.

    1. I’ll admit, his ad makes smoking look real cool.

  8. Why are the State Attorneys General meeting in Park City on my dime? Have the conference at a motel in Fresno, or better yet, don’t have the conference at all.

  9. Tobacco-free kids tries to compare e-cigarettes to tobacco by saying they use celebrity endorsements, attractive people, sports sponsorships, popular varieties, and practical arguments to attract customers. Which I guess means virtually every industry is marketing to kids.

    When Fred Thompson touts reverse home mortgages, he’s secretly recruiting kids. When Tide sponsors a racecar, it’s aimed at kids. When Charmin uses cartoons, it’s aimed at hooking kids on its toilet paper.

    The real criticism is that smoking is bad and e-cigarettes look like smoking. But you can’t simply say that, it helps if you can imply subterfuge.

  10. e-cigarette companies that appear to be using some of the same advertising tactics that once drew young adults into smoking

    Oh FFS are they still peddling that line of horseshit? I would love to see them trot someone out on stage and have them swear on a stack of bibles that they started smoking because of Joe Camel. But it will never happen because no such person exists.

    1. Among the problems with the e-cigarette industry, according to Mr. Riley and other senior law enforcement officials at the meeting, are e-cigarettes with flavors like Cherry Crush and Peach Schnapps, which are sold by the e-cigarette company Blu and may be particularly appealing to children.

      Yet you can go into any highway men’s room and find similar flavored condoms. And who has to stop most often to relive themselves while on road trips, hmmm? Kids, that’s who! But OH NOEZ! NOTS MUH BURF KONTWOL!

      I keed, but that line of thinking is nonsense. Will hookah tobacco, wine coolers, and caffeinated drinks need to limit their flavor offerings to only include unsavory varieties too?

    2. Remember when more kids could recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse?

    3. Smoking tobacco was bad because of the smoke. E-cigs were bad because they contained nicotine & looked like cigarets. Later e-cigs were bad because by then people recognized it as vaping nicotine, which meant they reminded people of smoking even though they didn’t look like cigarets, pipes, or cigars. Vaping nicotine-free is bad because it looks the same as vaping nicotine. Soon scented candles will be bad because they’re a substitute for nicotine-free vaping fluid.

      But somehow they’re going to have to make cannabinoid vapes good.

  11. Can we all agree that stephen dorff looks cool as fuck in those ads?

    1. Ha! See my comment above.

      1. Missed it! Right on

  12. The 1998 “master settlement agreement” created a huge slush fund that has financed a mini-industry of anti-smoking organizations, anti-smoking education specialists, grant and contract-winning anti-smoking ad agencies and anti-smoking campaign art design shops, all with their own influential executive officers and now with some lobbying power (evidently), even as the reason for their existence* decreases.

    This is one of the effects. I’ll bet the cost of treating these AGs to a week of cool mountain air and fine dining was shared by the permanent anti-smoking bureaucracy or its funders.

    And some people wonder how government gets bigger and bigger.

    1. ^^THIS^^

      The new anti-smoking groups fear e-cigarettes for one reason. It threatens their existence. They can’t have smokers not smoking or their play money goes bye bye. They need to spout the evils of smoking, and they can’t do that if people aren’t smoking.

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