Health

Advertising restrictions needed to curb vaping among youth, researchers say

As the popularity of e-cigarettes among Canadian teens surged, advertisements in stores and on TV contributed to their popularity, and now need to be regulated, researchers say.

Unregulated marketing contributing to rising popularity

E-cigarette advertising hangs above candy at a convenience store in Toronto on Monday. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

As the popularity of e-cigarettes among Canadian teens surged, advertisements in stores and on TV contributed to their popularity, and now need to be regulated, researchers say.

In a study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Texas found children aged 12 to 17 who reported remembering e-cigarette marketing in stores, such as on signs, were nearly twice as likely to start vaping within two and a half years.

The researchers also followed 2,288 youths (aged 12 to 17) and 2,423 young adults (aged 18 to 29) who said they'd never vaped.

Among young adults who recalled both in-store and TV ads, the likelihood they would take up vaping increased by 30 per cent for both forms of marketing, lead author Alexandra Loukas and her team found.

In the analysis, Loukas accounted for factors such as having friends who vaped and a tendency toward "sensation-seeking."

Advertising "might not be the most important predictor, but it does seem to be a factor," Loukas, a professor in the department of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin told HealthDay News.

Loukas said unregulated marketing of e-cigarette devices contribute to their popularity, especially among young adults.

'Next to the candy'

Cigarette smoking in teens in Canada appears to be rising for the first time in 30 years and vaping among teens increased 74 per cent from 2017 to 2018 according to David Hammond, a public health researcher at the University of Waterloo. 

"These are companies that maintain that they're not interested in recruiting youth," Hammond said. "Having said that, so long as those ads remain in the stores, remain next to the candy and the Slurpee machine, I think its difficult to take that claim seriously," Hammond told CBC News. 

In both Canada and the U.S., tobacco advertising is banned. The rules for e-cigarettes are looser. In Canada, for example, e-cigarette makers are allowed to say the products are tasty and show exploding pictures of cherries, mango and other fruit. 

"We actually have our regulations backwards in that we're prohibiting the messages that might help smokers to switch to these products and we're allowing the ones that are probably going to have at least as much effect in terms of bringing young people to the market," said Hammond. 

Public health experts and others warned governments that allowing e-cigarette advertising would lead to an uptick among youth and young adults, says Robert Schwartz of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto who is currently conducting similar research to Lousas's.

Public health experts and others warned governments that allowing e-cigarette advertising would lead to an uptick among youth and young adults. (Aliaksandr Barouski/Shutterstock)

Health Canada has said it intends to introduce new measures to curb the rising number of young people who vape, such as a proposal for more ad restrictions, a new public education campaign, and limits on the display of vaping products in certain retail locations.

The need for ad restrictions "is urgent given the numbers of young people who are starting to vape and they're becoming addicted," Schwartz said.

When the U.S. students were first surveyed in 2014, internet advertising and social media promotion hadn't yet taken off.

With files from CBC's Kas Roussy

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