The e-cigarette manufacturer says the commercials are an adult education campaign. Critics say the ads are designed to encourage teens to vape.
“You’ve come a long way, baby, to get where you got to today. You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby, you’ve come a long, long way,” the singer croons.
That iconic Virginia Slims cigarette commercial was seen widely on television during the late 1960s.
So was the cigarette ad featuring the rugged Marlboro man in the outdoors. “Come to where the flavor is, come to Marlboro country,” the announcer suggests.
But in 1970, Congress pulled the plug on those ads.
Lawmakers passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio. President Richard Nixon signed it into law.
Now nearly 50 years later, cigarette ads are back on TV. How’s that possible?
These new ads are promoting modern-day electronic cigarettes, which aren’t spelled out in that law.
Juul Labs, the dominate e-cigarette maker, is running a series of ads in a campaign it calls “Make the Switch.”
The videos begin with a written warning that states, “This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
Each ad features an individual story from a man or woman about how and why they “switched” from cigarettes to Juul.
One woman, referred to as Carolyn, says about cigarette smoking, “It’s not part of the social norm anymore. It’s not accepted.”
Juul is reportedly spending as much as $10 million to run the ads in newspapers and online as well as on radio and television.
The campaign has opponents fired up and taking action.
Juul calls the ads an adult education campaign.
However, Vince Willmore, vice president of communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says the ads seem to be about image building — a message aimed at politicians more than smokers.
“They’re using these ‘switch’ ads to portray themselves as a responsible company to policymakers, a company that’s trying to solve the problem. When in reality, they cause the problem,” Willmore told Healthline.
The e-cig maker has been under political fire, especially on its own home turf.
In June, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to pass an e-cigarette ban. Other cities are considering similar moves.
Willmore says Juul is “making unproven and unauthorized cessation claims, which violate the law.”
In May, his group, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and Truth Initiative, all signed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In it, the organizations ask the agency to investigate and take enforcement action against Juul.
They state that Juul has violated a law that prohibits a manufacturer from making therapeutic claims unless the company has demonstrated to the FDA that their product is safe and effective.
On September 9, the FDA sent Juul executives a
Ted Kwong, a Juul Labs spokesperson, denied the accusations when he spoke to Healthline before the FDA letter was sent.
“Switching is not another word for cessation. They mean two very different things. Switching involves continuing to consume nicotine but from a different device, while cessation is about getting users to eliminate their nicotine consumption altogether. We are a switching product,” Kwong said.
“Our product contains nicotine and is intended to switch adult smokers from one nicotine delivery system to another — not a cessation product, and that is clear in all of our marketing and communications,” he said.
Kwong also criticizes opponents who insist the ads still influence teens, even though the company no longer advertises on social media.
He said the ads are “all conveyed in a style, tone, and message tailored to current adult smokers. And we are ensuring that this campaign is targeted at adult smokers age 35 and up.”
But a researcher who has studied e-cigarettes and teens says it’s not that simple.
“It’s true that youth don’t watch TV nearly as often as they stream shows and go on social media sites. However, they still see ads on sports shows or something they might want to watch in real time,” Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a developmental psychologist and professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, told Healthline.
“The concern here is that youth see these ads and feel that if they’re on TV then it must mean that the products are safe and OK to use. Even if the ads are supposedly for adults, they still attract youth. And anything appealing to youth simply increases their likelihood of using it.
“The real issue is that ads for cigarettes aren’t allowed and yet we allow ads for Juul and other e-cigarette and tobacco products. There are almost no restrictions on the content of the ads, where or when they’re shown, and if they’re shown during times when youth are watching,” she said.