AD+PR Faculty Experts Weigh in on Vaping Issues Related to Advertising

 MSU professors, Nora Rifon and Ashley Sanders-Jackson, give their consumer behavior and youth tobacco usage perspectives

By Mark Pipp

Woman vaping

Getty images.

Vaping continues making headlines due to state-level bans on selling certain flavors and a proposed ban at the national level. Much of this talk has centered around minors using e-cigarette products, which is believed to have started as a result of targeted advertising.

Nora Rifon, Ph.D., a professor with MSU’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations, has spent her career studying consumer behavior. On the issue of an outright ban on e-cigarettes, Rifon said that it would not be an unprecedented move by lawmakers.

“Cigarette companies had a similar history getting into trouble with rules about advertising to youth. Minors do not have the capacity to make an informed choice, their brains are not developed enough. There is a long history of the cigarette industry working around what the government says and that might be happening again with vaping,” said Rifon.

Recently Juul Labs, the number-one market share holder in the vaping industry, pulled their broadcast, digital and print advertisements. Some have seen this move as a way to save their company image, but Rifon is skeptical.

“I don’t think it is necessarily about saving face. What they care about is getting people hooked on their product and making customers loyal to the brand. This is probably a move to avoid having new regulations,” said Rifon.

AD+PR faculty member, Ashley Sanders-Jackson, Ph.D., researches teenage tobacco use and government policy surrounding the issue.

“The problem is with the youth usage and uptake of these products. Youths especially like flavors, but some studies suggest that flavors help some smokers stop smoking,” said Sanders-Jackson.

Sanders-Jackson has also seen a conflict in the literature around e-cigarettes being used to help people quit smoking.

“E-cigarettes may have their own issues that are unknown at this point. The ‘less risky’ argument is concerning to me since it implies the risks associated with both products are known when we don’t know about vaping risks,” said Sanders-Jackson.

A concern that many former smokers have about the proposed ban is that many smokers who switched to vaping credit using flavors to forget the smell and taste of cigarettes. Research has also been done backing up this claim. Some consumers are hopeful that this research will lead to some flavors being allowed to stay on the market.

“I think that ultimately this is a question that will have to be answered with consumer behavior after a ban. The Federal Trade Commission’s mission is to create an environment for consumers to make an informed choice, not to squash industry,” said Rifon.