(NBC News) - E-cigarette makers may say they welcome regulation and don’t want to sell to teenage nonsmokers, but their advertising dollars paint a very different picture, according to a report released Thursday.
E-cigarette makers spent $39 million on ads from June through November 2013, much of it on programming targeting youth, the anti-tobacco organization Legacy found.
“Overall, these research findings indicate that, despite their publicly stated intentions, some e-cigarette companies are reaching youth with their advertising,” Legacy says in its report.
“Moreover, the only national brand owned by a major tobacco company, blu, is reaching a significant portion of young Americans with its advertising. The effects of this are apparent, with nearly all young people aware of these products and use among young people rising rapidly.”
The fear is a whole new generation of people will become addicted to nicotine before federal regulations can be written, let alone take hold.
Even some public health experts say e-cigarettes may be a useful alternative to burned tobacco cigarettes for smokers. But they also agree that it would be bad to encourage or even allow non-smoking children to become addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes.
Legacy was set up in 1999 as part of the Master Settlement Agreement when major tobacco companies agreed to pay more than $200 billion to states and territories. The states wanted some of the money to be used for an organization dedicated to studying and providing public education about the impact of tobacco.
Just last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would seek to regulate e-cigarettes, because they contain nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco. Most e-cigarette makers said they’d welcome some regulation.
Legacy did two studies looking at the marketing of e-cigarettes, and asking teens and young adults what they knew about them. It found e-cigarette TV ads reached 29.3 million teens and young adults from January through November 2013, including 58 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds.
Taken together, the two reports show e-cigarette makers using tactics that have long been banned for regular cigarettes, the report says.
Public health experts say 90 percent of smokers start by the age of 20. They worry that e-cigarettes sold in flavors such as bubble gum and Gummi bear are targeted mainly to younger teens.
“While cigarette advertising is prohibited on television, it is currently fair game to use television to promote electronic cigarettes. Using broadcast and online advertising has allowed the e-cigarette industry to promote its products in a way that hasbroad reach and is largely unregulated,” Legacy says.