Cartoon Ads May Increase the Likelihood of Young Adults Using E-Cigarettes

Cartoon-based marketing exposure to e-cigarettes may increase the likelihood of young adults deciding to start vaping, according to University of Southern California (USC) researchers who published their findings in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The tobacco industry once famously used cartoons to market their products to the younger generation, most notably with the infamous “Joe Camel” advertisements. That practice changed with Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) which restricted the use of cartoons for marketing combustible cigarettes and chewing tobacco. However, no such restrictions currently exist in e-cigarette marketing, and according the study authors, who conducted social media observations prior to this study, “we found that e-liquid manufacturers and vendors were using cartoons to market their products and many of these companies’ logos were cartoons, suggesting that the cartoon image is integral to their brand identity and recognition strategy.”

In this study, researchers administered two separate online surveys between July 13th and August 10th, 2018. Study 1 included 778 participants (62% women, mean age, 23.5) who completed a questionnaire that assessed their perceptions of the expected benefits and risks of e-cigarettes and were provided a task to gage their recognition of several cartoons and non-cartoons in e-liquid marketing images. Study 2 was comprised of 522 participants (55% women, mean age, 30.4) who were prompted to complete a task designed to appraise the appeal of e-liquid packaging with and without a cartoon.

‘Never Users’ Are Susceptible

According to the results of Study 1, 303 (39%) of participants had never used e-cigarettes, 220 (28%) had used e-cigarettes over the course of their lives, and 255 (33%) had smoked e-cigarettes in the past month. Among ‘never users’, cartoon recognition showed a significant correlation with higher expectation of taste enjoyment (p=.002), and those who reported cartoon recognition were more susceptible to future use (OR=4.61; 95% CI, 1.64 to 12.97). However, the results of Study 2 suggest no discernible difference between cartoon and non-cartoon images with respect to product appeal, and the researchers found no significant image type and user status interactions.

“Among young adults who had never used e-cigarettes, we found a significant effect of cartoon-based marketing on their likelihood of using the products in the future,” said Jon-Patrick Allem, co-leader of the study and assistant professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in a press release. “Cartoons appear to be very effective at increasing susceptibility to use e-cigarettes among individuals who aren’t using them to begin with.”

“By examining relationships between cartoon-based advertisement and logos and e-cigarette-related outcomes among young and older adults, the present study could motivate policies aimed at reducing cartoon-based e-cigarette advertising like the restriction established in the Master Settlement Agreement,” the authors wrote in their conclusion. “In the interim, future research should try to expand the present findings to include longitudinal examinations of the potential causal impact of exposure to cartoon-based marketing on subsequent e-cigarette initiation among adolescents.”

Source: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, EurekAlert