E-Cigarettes Staining the Entertainment Industry?

Electronic dance music superstar Avicii recently became the latest celebrity to endorse electronic cigarettes. The NJoy ad set to his hit "Hey, Brother" features a squirrel mascot, a wedding reception, and the message that "friends don't let friends smoke." With the ad and a Facebook post promoting it, Avicii joins celebrity e-cig endorsers including NJoy investor/pop icon Bruno Mars, and actors Stephen Dorff and Jenny McCarthy, both of whom endorse Blu, the brand owned by Lorillard (NYSE: LO.DL  ) .

There's no question that e-cigs are big business, with sales last year of more than $1 billion. Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI  ) debuted Vuse and Altria  (NYSE: MO  ) launched the MarkTen to get in on the growing market. The real question is whether the celebs who endorse them are burning their own brands.

Vaping basics
If you're not familiar with e-cigarettes and "vaping," the gist is that e-cigs are smoke-free plastic tubes made to look like cigarettes. They hold a mixture of water, nicotine, and artificial flavors (bubblegum cig, anyone?) that delivers a nicotine fix without the mess and expense of tobacco cigarettes. Based on the lack of tar, smoke, and stench, e-cigarettes look at first glance like a good alternative to smoking tobacco.

But the jury is still out on the health benefits and risks of vaping, and the FDA has already warned several e-cig makers to stop saying their products can help smokers quit, unless they get FDA approval. As with tobacco products, e-cigarettes are prohibited from making health claims in their ads, although actress and vaping fan Katherine Heigl has publicly asserted that "you're not harming yourself" by using them. She's not a doctor, but she did play one on TV.

Marketing limits
For those of us old enough to remember cigarette ads in magazines and student smoking areas on high school campuses, the new wave of celebrity endorsements for e-cigarettes creates a sense of deja vu. The marketing rules are looser now for e-cigs than for traditional smokes, but stricter regulation of e-cigarettes is inevitable.

New FDA rules for sales and advertising are expected soon. New York City recently banned vaping wherever smoking is prohibited. The University of California system and the states of New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah have similar bans in place.

Expect e-cig rules to get tougher and more common if the current trend of kids and teens vaping continues to grow. While many high-profile vapers like Dorff pitch e-cigs as a hassle-free alternative for current tobacco smokers, the CDC reported last fall that electronic cigarette use doubled among kids in middle and high schools in 2012. Nearly 9% of those underage vapers started without smoking tobacco first, suggesting that the perceived cool factor is pulling in kids who might not otherwise pick up a cigarette habit.

Evaporating credibility
When the new FDA rules come down, and after more health research is done, the public perception of e-cigarettes could shift from safe smoking alternative to just another nicotine-delivery device and a way to get kids on the cigarette bandwagon. If that happens, the celebrities who happily endorse e-cigs, may take an image hit among fans.

They may also have problems with other business partners who don't want to be associated, however loosely, with cigarettes. Bruno Mars, for example, endorses Filipino clothing brand Bench, while Avicii has high-profile deals with Polo Ralph Lauren and Sony. McCarthy, a controversial figure for her vehement insistence on the link between vaccines and autism, and NJoy spokeswoman/post-grunge rocker Courtney Love probably have less to lose by a connection to e-cigarettes because many advertisers were already hesitant to turn to them.

Maybe e-cigarettes will prove to be a healthier alternative to smoking and gain wide acceptance, but it seems unlikely. Until we know which way the wind is blowing, endorsing e-cigs looks like a risky move.

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  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 4:27 PM, BillGodshall wrote:

    In April 2009 FDA's Rita Chappelle revealed the agency's unscientific policy to demonize and ban e-cigarettes “We don’t want the public to perceive them as a safer alternative to cigarettes.”

    Then in July 2009, Obama appointee (and former Waxman staffer and longtime tobacco harm reduction opponent) FDA Deputy Director Josh Sharfstein held a press conference (in defense of the agency's ban on e-cigs and in retaliation to lawsuits filed against FDA by two e-cig companies) falsely claiming that e-cigs are addicting children, can be gateways to cigarette smoking, are target marketed to children, contain carcinogens and toxic chemical DEG, haven't been proven less hazardous than cigarettes, haven't been proven to help smokers quit, and are illegally marketed as smoking cessation aids.

    Thankfully for the rule of law, public health, civil liberties, market competition and common sense, all 12 federal appeals court judges upheld Judge Richard Leon’s Janaury 15, 2010 ruling striking down FDA’s e-cig ban as unlawful

    For disclosure, I collaborated with SE and NJOY in their successful litigation against FDA, and in 2010 I and other public health advocates filed an amicus brief with the DC Court of Appeals opposing FDA e-cig ban because it threatened the lives of all vapers and cigarette smokers.

    During the past five years, the growing mountain of scientific and empirical evidence consistently indicates that e-cigarettes:

    - are 99% (+/-1%) less hazardous than cigarettes,

    - are consumed almost exclusively (i.e. > 99%) by smokers and former smokers who quit by switching to e-cigs,

    - have helped several million smokers quit and/or sharply reduce cigarette consumption,

    - have replaced (reduced consumption of) nearly 1 Billion packs of cigarettes in the US in the past five years,

    - are more effective than FDA approved nicotine gums, lozenges, patches and inhalers for smoking cessation and reducing cigarette consumption,

    - pose fewer risks than FDA approved Verenicline (Chantix) and Wellbutrin,

    - emit similar trace levels of constituents as FDA approved nicotine inhalers, posing no risks to nonusers,

    - have never been found to create nicotine dependence in any nonsmoker, and

    - have never been found to precede cigarette smoking in any daily smoker.

    But in its zeal to ban and demonize e-cigs, the FDA has refused to clarify or correct any of its false and misleading fear mongering claims about e-cigs, and instead has plotted to once again ban e-cigs (by regulating them as tobacco products under Chapter IX of the TCA, which would effectively ban all e-cigs once again due to prohibition clauses in Section 905(j) and Section 910).

    Four months ago, Obama appointed CDC Director Tom Frieden and OSH Director Tim McAfee (both of whom also vehemently oppose smokers switching to far less hazardous e-cigs) not only lied about the scientific evidence on e-cigs (by falsely claiming nicotine damages the brain, e-cigarettes are addictive, and are a gateway to cigarette smoking), but also intentionally misrepresented their own NYTS survey findings (i.e. finding that "past-month" use of an e-cig by teens increased from 1% in 2011 to 2% in 2012)

    But in fact, the most important findings by far of the NYTS survey were that:

    - teen smokers were >20 times more likely than nonsmokers to have reported “ever use” and “past-30-day-use” of e-cigs in both 2011 and 2012,

    - <1% of teen nonsmokers reported “ever use” of e-cigs, and <.5% reported past 30 day use of an e-cig in both 2011 and 2012, and

    - reported cigarette smoking declined from 2011 to 2012 as e-cig increased, and

    - e-cigs are a gateway away from (not towards) cigarette smoking.

    If FDA, CDC and other e-cig prohibitonists and propagandists were truly interested in reducing cigarette smoking, they would correct and clarify their false and misleading claims about e-cigs, they'd truthfully inform smokers that e-cigs are far less hazardous than cigarettes, and the FDA would immediately halt its attempt to impose the deeming regulation on e-cigs.

    The best way to reduce smoking is to allow the largely free market for e-cigarettes to continue flourishing without any federal regulations.

    FDA regulation of e-cigs will protect cigarettes from market competition by far less hazardous e-cigs, will threaten the lives of vapers and smokers, and (if FDA exempts e-cigs from the prohibition claused in Chapter IX) will give the e-cig industry to the three largest tobacco companies (none of which benefit public health).

    For disclosure, neither I nor Smokefree Pennsylvania have ever received funding from any tobacco, drug or e-cigarette company.

    Bill Godshall

    Executive Director

    Smokefree Pennsylvania

    1926 Monongahela Avenue

    Pittsburgh, PA 15218


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Casey Kelly-Barton

Casey is a writer and journalist who follows the consumer goods, travel, and tech industries for The Motley Fool.

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