E-cigarettes: Marketing

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British American Tobacco subsidiary Vype e-cigarette advert as used on bill boards, January 2014

In the UK, in line with the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, tobacco products cannot be advertised in print, billboards, via direct mail outs or sponsorships (television advertising ceased in 1965). There are no such restrictions on the marketing of e-cigarettes. This page provides details of the current debate over e-cigarette advertising, particularly in relation to concerns that companies are marketing to youth, and provides some examples of e-cigarette adverts.
Research from the University of Stirling revealed that spending on e-cigarette promotion in the UK increased from £1.7m in 2010 to £13.1m in 2012. Furthermore, in the second half of 2013, a British American Tobacco subsidiary spent £3.6m in two months to promote the launch of its e-cigarette brand, Vype in the UK.12


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has expressed concern that without regulation of e-cigarettes, such devices may be “marketed in a way that may ultimately promote smoking.”3 Similar conerns were raised by recent research into the marketing of e-cigarettes in the UK, published by CRUK in 2013. The research highlighted the fact that e-cigarettes have been targeted at two distinct consumer groups to date:4 While these percentages are relatively low, they account for nearly 2 million students in the US. E-cigarettes are increasingly being positioned as socially attractive and part of a rapidly growing trend and are being sold at exclusive events and popular venues e.g. parties and festivals.5 Therefore, many public health researchers and advocates agree that there is a need to regulate e-cigarettes, particularly the way in which they are marketed so that e-cigarettes do not appeal to young people and non-smokers.

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/cruk_marketing_of_electronic_cigs_nov_2013.pdf Concerns about current e-cigarette marketing practices from, The marketing of electronic cigarettes in the UK, p12

According to research,67

* Sexualising use in paid adverts8

* Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter910

Youth Marketing Strategies

E-cigarettes are being marketed in a way which emulates very successful tobacco advertising asserting an independent identity and a lifestyle choice, aligning oneself with celebrities, fashionable and youthful places and activities.11 Both independent e-cigarette companies and tobacco company e-cigarette subsidiaries have engaged in marketing activities that can be interpreted as appealing to youth even if the company line is that this is not its intention.

Non-Tobacco Companies

Independent e-cigarette companies (i.e. those which are not associated with tobacco companies) are careful “to distance their products from tobacco.”121314

  • The Internet and social media tools are used to display attractive price promotions, competitions and group discount vouchers;

Price is an important determinant in purchasing behaviour, particularly amongst young people,15 and the internet presents a direct route of communication to such audiences.16

  • Celebrity endorsements and celebrity-inspired styling;

This strategy is a marketing technique,17 and also a public relations activity to promote trust in a product.18

  • Sports sponsorship;

Research found that corporate sponsorship of sports teams leads children to absorb the corporate marketing messages and influence purchasing decisions.192021

Examples of such marketing: Sky Cig made its first club-specific sponsorship deal in October 2013 (see below), after having had an advertising presence within football for two seasons. In June 2013, London venue The O2 signed a multi-year partnership deal with E-Lites, allowing guests to use and buy the products in and around the arena.22

Tobacco Companies

Professor Gerard Hastings, a co-author of the 2013 CRUK report on the marketing of e-cigarettes said: “The fact that multinational tobacco companies are moving in on this market is of particular concern. From past experience, we know they are deceitful, determined and deeply detrimental to public health.”23
The marketing of e-cigarette brands by tobacco companies is in its infancy in comparison to the marketing of independent e-cigarette companies, nevertheless there have been a number of recent marketing activities from tobacco company subsidiaries. Tobacco companies’ message is somewhat different to that of the independents and the nicotine products of the pharmaceutical industry, with the tobacco industry framing independent’s as not understand smokers’ needs and the pharmaceutical industry as offering unappealing products.24

As part of its £3.6m campaign to promote Vype, CN Creative:

* Emphasised characteristics such as freedom, sociability and fun

* Employed social media strategies in addition to print media adverts

* Used attractive young people in Vype branding cars to tour the UK’s cities to promote the e-cigarette25

* Opened what was called the first social venue centred entirely around e-cigarettes: the Vype Social night club in Shoreditch, a young trendy area of London. Trying to get on board the vape lounge craze and using the tagline “Sociability Reborn”, the bar was promoted heavily using social media, actively stirring discussion and therefore publicity. However, the club was closed soon after it was opened in November 2013. In hindsight, it was just a month-long promo for BAT’s e-cigarette. The ‘Vype Social’ pages on the internet now link to the Govype page and a dedicated Facebook page.26

Vype Ad Appears in Children’s Game

BAT received criticism in October 2013 when an advert for Vype appeared in an online children’s game (click on fifth image in the gallery below to enlarge).

File:Vype inside ad.pngVype advert promoting indoor use of e-cigarettes
File:Vype promo girls.pngImage of promotional staff for Vype, August 2013
File:Vype bar.jpgVype bar, Shorditch, London, open in November 2013
File:Vype sociability reborn.pngVype promotional tagline “Sociability Reborn”
File:Vype ad in child game.pngAdvert for Vype appears in children’s online game, October 2013


Stephen Dorff in ironically styled Blu e-cigarette advert


Blu was an independent US e-cigarette company that was bought out by US tobacco company Lorillard in 2010. Lorillard spent £19m promoting Blu. In the third quarter of 2013, Blu owned 49% of the US e-cigarette market share. 27
An analysis of the marketing methods of companies selling smokeless products observed 879 adverts for Blu e-cigarettes in print and on television between 1 June 2012 and August 31 2012.28 Some claim that current marketing techniques for e-cigarettes mimic the successful advertising of cigarettes in a by-gone era.
Amongst other techniques, Lorillard has used the following strategies, all of which are known to appeal to youth audiences, as shown above.

  1. Celebrity endorsement – Actress Jenny McCarthy is the female face of Blu and actor Stephen Dorff is the male face of the brand. In one ad, Dorff says: “It’s time we take our freedom back,” before going on to say that Blu e-cigarettes can be smoked “at a basketball game … in a bar with your friends … virtually anywhere.” Inhaling with swagger, he adds: “Come on, guys, rise from the ashes.”29
  2. Sports endorsement
  3. Sexuality
  4. Innovative packaging – Innovative packs alert users when they come within fifty feet of another user. Both packs start vibrating and flashing a blue light. As an alternative to this users can modify their preferences and share social media details with the other users.30
  5. No reason to quit – Blu does not position e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking. This ad from the US – Why quit? Switch to Blu – makes it clear the company just wants people to use e-cigarettes. Spring 2014, Blu also used the slogan Smoking Redefined which associates the e-cigarette to the real thing and with being cool.

File:Blu jenny mcCarthy.jpg1. Actress Jenny McCarthy endorses Blu e-cigarettes on the product website
File:Blu dorff comparison.png2. Comparison between iconic cigarette advert and new Blu e-cigarette advertising
File:Blu sports sponsor.jpg3. Motorsport sponsorship, reminiscent of conventional cigarette sponsorship, e.g. Marlboro and Formula 1
File:Blu provocative.jpg4. Sexualising e-cigarette use
File:Blu why quit.jpg5. E-cigarettes as another way of smoking

Sky Cig

The inaugural television advert for Sky Cig was first broadcast on Tuesday 15 January 2012 (this was before Lorillard took over the UK e-cigarette brand in October 2013 – by then already successful). Showing young people performing youthful activities, partying, mountain biking, relaxing in bed, and travelling. The voice-over emphases that “Life is about now” ….”Life is only asking you one thing…” – to which the answer is: “Who are you sharing it with?” Throughout the advert, in sync with the questions asked, the camera zooms-in repeatedly on the Sky Cig branded package of e-cigarettes carried by, or placed next to, all the young people depicted in the ad. As if in response to the questions posed, the voiceover ends the advert simply stating: “Sky Cig”. After a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), Sky Cig the advert was not permitted to run again in its original form, as is explained at the page on E-cigarettes: Marketing Rules.
The advert is reminiscent of the Philip Morris Be Marlboro cigarette adverts which have been aired in 50 countries around the world. The Be Marlboro campaign has been widely criticised for its youth appeal and, after running for over a year, has been banned by authorities in Germany.31

Skycig Deal with Football Team

In October 2013, just when Skicig was taken over by Lorillard, the company signed a deal with the Wolverhampton Wanderers. Under first club-specific sponsorship deal, fans of the football club will be allowed to buy and use e-cigarettes within certain areas of the Molineux Stadium. Smoking has been banned within English football stadiums since 2007 when the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces came into effect; however, regulation around the use of e-cigarettes in public places is less clear cut.32

Other TobaccoTactics Resources

External Reources

  • Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising: E-cigarettes.


  1. M. de Anstrade, G. Hastings, K. Angus, Promotion of electronic cigarettes: tobacco marketing reinvented? BMJ, 2013;347:fdoi: 10.1136/bmj.f7473
  2. M. de Antrade, G. Hastings, K. Angus, D. Dixon, R. Purves, The marketing of electronic cigarettes in the UK. A report commissioned by Cancer Research UK, November 2013
  3. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Tobacco: harm reduction approaches to smoking. Public heath guidance 45. 2013, accessed January 2014
  4. 1. The committed smoker,

    2. Young social smoker or non-smoker.

    A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (US) has found that “From 2011 to 2012, electronic cigarette use increased significantly among middle school (0.6% to 1.1%) and high school (1.5% to 2.8%) students…”[ref]B. Eitel, CDC: Rate double for teens vaping e-cigarettes, All Voices, 18 November 2013, accessed January 2014

  5. E-cigarette marketing seen threatened under FDA scrutiny, Daily Herald, 27 October 2013, accessed January 2014
  6. [ref] consumer marketing of e-cigarettes is happening via:

    * Television adverts

    * Sports and cultural sponsorship

    * Celebrity endorsement

    * Social networking

    * Online advertising

    * Point of Sale displays

    * Pricing strategies

    * Product innovation

    The following concerns, relating specifically to young people, have been raised (this list is not exhaustive):

    * Glamorising use by using celebrity endorsement and promotion at glamorous events e.g. free handouts at New York Fashion Week[ref]T. Peterson, Free e-cigarettes at Fashion week, Which E-cigarette: your e-cigarette guide, 19 September 2013, accessed January 2014

  7. We ask the Model Alliance and NJOY: Should e-cigarettes be available at fashion week?, The Fashion Spot, 12 September 2013, accessed January 2014
  8. T. Jivanda, ‘Put it in my mouth’: Viewers outraged by apparent reference to oral sex in VIP e-cig advert, The Independent, 4 December 2013, accessed January 2014
  9. A.Gregory, Tobacco companies ‘pushing e-cigs on youngsters via Facebook and Twitter’, Mirror, 27 November 2013, accessed January 2014
  10. * Earned media is also playing a role, with journalists discussing the promotion of e-cigarettes in magazines with a typically youth audience[ref]C. Cardellino, Electronic cigarettes: Available for free at fashion week, Cosmopolitan, 5 September 2013, accessed January 2014

  11. Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, 7 ways e-cigarette companies are copying big tobacco’s play book, Tobacco Unfiltered, 2 October 2013, accessed January 2014

  12. The following marketing techniques have been used by independents. Evidence exists that each of these strategies has been successful with youth audiences in conventional cigarette promotion.

    • Aesthetic appeal including attractiveness, coolness, colours and innovative packaging and flavour variations;

    Research on tobacco clearly indicates the appeal of such characteristics and flavourings to youth audiences.[ref]C. M. Carpenter, G. F. Wayne, J. L. Pauly, H. K. Koh, G. N. Connolly. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: Tobacco marketing strategies. Health Affairs, 2005;24(6):1601-10

  13. C. D. Czoli, D. Hammond. Cigarette packaging: youth perceptions of ‘natural’ cigarettes, filter references, and contraband tobacco. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2014;54(1):33-9
  14. A.Ford, A. MacKintosh, C. Moodie, S. Richardson, G. Hastings. Cigarette pack design and adolescent smoking susceptibility: A cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open, 2013;3:e003282
  15. F. J. Chaloupka, K. M. Cummings, C. P. Morley, J. K. Horan. Tax, price and cigarette smoking: Evidence from the tobacco documents and implications for tobacco company marketing strategies. Tobacco Control, 2002;11:i62-72
  16. S.Calvert. Children as consumers: Advertising and marketing. The Future of Children, 2008;18(1):205-34
  17. K. L. Sterling, R. S. Moore, N. Pitts, M. Duong, K. H. Ford, M. P. Eriksen. Exposure to celebrity-endorsed small cigar promotions and susceptibility to use among young adult cigarette smokers. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2013; e520286
  18. 3 ways startups can turn celebrity endorsements into big gains, Forbes, 3 August 2013, accessed January 2014
  19. A. J. Bush, C. A. Martin, V. D. Bush. Sports celebrity influence on the behavioural intentions of Generation Y. Journal of Advertising Research, 2004;44(1):108-18
  20. S. Pettigrew, M. Rosenberg, R. Ferguson, S. Houghton, L. Wood. Game on: do children absorb sports sponsorship messages? Public Health Nutrition, 2013;16(12):2197-204
  21. R. Macniven, B. Kelly. Sports sponsorship and kids’ health: Who are the real winners? The Conversation”, 2 October 2012, accessed January 2014
  22. Lara O’Reilly, SKYCIG signs deal with Wolves to let fans puff at Molineux, Marketing Week, 16 October 2013, accessed May 2014

  23. Recent research shows that in the case of the smokeless tobacco product snus, the tobacco industry talks about harm reduction, but internal documents reveal that smokeless tobacco was seen as an opportunity to target smokers that were considering quitting, smokers in smokefree public places and a health conscious generation no longer interested in starting smoking.[ref]S. Peeters, A. Gilmore, Transnational tobacco company interests in smokeless tobacco in Europe: Analysis of internal industry documents and contemporary industry materials, PLOS Medicine, 2013;10(9):e1001506

  24. Tobacco companies are marketing their e-cigarettes as a dual use product so that smokers can access nicotine inside social venues. Tobacco companies do not necessarily advocate stopping smoking and using e-cigarettes instead. E-cigarettes are promoted as a socially acceptable option rather than a smoking alternative altogether.

    British American Tobacco

    British American Tobacco’s subsidiary CN Creative outlines the target audience of their e-cigarette, Vype, as existing smokers:

    The new product is a similar weight and size to a tobacco cigarette, has a soft-tip filter and features an LED light which glows a soft red when in use. This example, demonstrates how BAT have used their existing knowledge and expertise in the smoking market and applied it to a new product and market.[ref]Vype, Diversify your products to stay ahead of the market, Real Business, 10 September 2013, accessed January 2014

  25. A. Ralph, Big tobacco fires up huge advert drive to ‘glamorise’ e-cigarettes. The Times, 14 September 2013
  26. Gary Cox, http://www.e-cigarette-forum.com/infozone/news/shoreditch-says-goodbye-to-vype-social.html Shoreditch says goodbye to Vype Social, E-cigarette Forum, 26 January 2014, accessed April 2014
  27. D. Headley, Lorillard leads e-cigarettes in the US but potential collapse looms, Euromonitor International, 15 November 2013, accessed January 2014
  28. A. Richardson, O. Ganz, C. Stalgaitis, D. Abrams, D. Vallone. Non-combustible tobacco product advertising: How companies are selling the new face of tobacco. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2013, Published online first doi:10.1093/ntr/ntt200
  29. THV 11, Big tobacco airs e-cigarette TV ads as FDA readies rules, 3 September 2013, accessed January 2014
  30. S. Cole, ‘Smart pack’ encourages social networking among e-cig users, Marketplace, 2011, accessed January 2014
  31. M. Saal, Marlboro unter Beschuss: Droht den ‘Maybe’- Plakaten das aus?, 2 August 2012, accessed October 2012