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Does Seeing E-Cigarettes Make You Want to Smoke?

A new study shows that there may be possible consequences of showing vaping in commercials. The researchers are claiming that just seeing the use of e-cigarettes in commercials can increase the urge, not to vape, but to smoke traditional cigarettes.

Researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that watching advertisements that show vaping has the potential to increase the desire of current and former smokers to pick up a traditional, combustible cigarette.

The study was recently published in the journal, Health Communication. The researchers assessed the urge to smoke among a sample of 301 daily smokers, 272 intermittent smokers and 311 former smokers. They then had the participants watch three e-cigarette commercials. Some of the commercials showed vaping, and others did not.

After watching the advertisements, the men and women surveyed were once again asked about their desire to smoke. Their responses showed that the daily smokers who saw vaping ads had a greater urge to smoke a regular cigarette and a higher likelihood of actually doing so during the experiment.

The former smokers who watched the advertisements with vaping were also more likely to report decreased desire to abstain from smoking though intermittent smokers showed no significant changes.

The researchers believe that the data suggests watching the commercials with vaping could lead to actual smoking or decrease the ability of former smokers to refrain from picking up a cigarette again.

Joseph N. Cappella is a Communications professor and one of the authors of the study. “The jury is still out on the efficacy of e-cigarettes to reduce tobacco use and tobacco smoking,” Dr. Cappella states in a video about his study. “If it turns out to be the case that e-cigarettes are a good vehicle for reducing tobacco addiction, then we not want to stand in the way of advertising…but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t carry out that advertising without the vaping cues in order to not have these deleterious consequences.”

It's probably isn’t surprising that watching vaping could trigger smoking, especially when it is an ad designed to entice smokers into trying e-cigarettes. In the effort to engage smokers in the idea of switching to e-cigarettes, many advertisements highlight the smoking like aspects of e-cigs, to make it an easier switch to accept for a smoker who is highly dependent on their conventional cigarettes. The truth is, the reason so many people successfully quit with e-cigs is because of the hand to mouth action and similarities to smoking that things like gum or patches just can’t cover.

However, the real question for some lies not within what parts of e-cigs we see highlighted in advertisements, but truly if e-cigs should even be allowed to be advertised in the first place. Many opponents believe that like cigarette commercials, the advertisements should be banned, to keep them from enticing, specifically younger people, into using nicotine products.

However, when you consider the results of this study, you have to question how anyone might feel placed in a situation like the survey participants. First, just because you have a greater urge, that doesn’t mean you will really go smoke a cigarette. That’s actually what makes e-cigarettes so great is they can help you in times of desperate cravings. In addition, think of how you react to any advertisement. If you watch a McDonalds ad, you may start to develop a burger craving, they do make it look pretty good, but does that mean you run to the drive-thru? Not usually, and even if you do actually satisfy your burger craving, was it necessarily a Big Mac? Again probably not, urges and actions are two different things. Of course, no one wants anyone to have more cigarette cravings, it is hard enough as it is, but how advertisements affect our brain is a fact, whether it’s e-cigs or cheeseburgers.

Advertisements have their own specific educational benefit, especially since e-cigarettes are a new item and all the information some people get about them are through commercials. That’s why Dr. Cappella believes that eliminating certain images that trigger more urges would be the proper course of action for advertising e-cig manufacturers. The most important thing to remember, is it is not about what triggers your cravings, even if it is an e-cig ad, it’s how you respond to those cravings—all the more reason we need e-cigarettes now more than ever.

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