Are e-cigs really more dangerous to kids than guns or combustibles?

A story published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (“in partnership with The Daily Mail”, so investigative credentials already perhaps a little tarnished) purports to expose a “loophole” in UK advertising rules that “lets Juul advertise to children at the cinema”.

It reports that “adverts promoting Juul’s vaping device ran before screenings of Angel Has Fallen, an action film starring Gerard Butler that was rated 15 in the UK”. And quotes an ad agency executive saying “it ‘makes little sense’ to allow ads for vape products targeted at those as young as 15”.

Well, maybe. But there are some questionable values and priorities going on here.

The piece is illustrated by a publicity still from the movie in question, showing Butler wielding a submachine gun, with apparently deadly intent, in a public street. So what’s clearly being said is that it’s perfectly OK to target mid-teens for two hours with the message that it’s glamorous and heroic to tote automatic weapons in public, but not OK to let them see a two-minute ad for an e-cigarette.

Are we quite sure we have our priorities right here? Our sense of outrage pointed in the right direction?

Moreover, some exposure to under-18s is clearly not the same as deliberately targeting under-18s. This is tacitly recognised by the Cinema Advertising Association (CAA), which approves ads for cinema exhibition, in its rules on alcohol advertising.

They state that such ads shouldn’t be shown before movies where more than 25% of the audience is likely to be under 18.

But the CAA does not simply rely on the age rating given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It notes that “the BBFC certificate is not a recommendation that a film will be of interest to a particular age group”, and that “‘15’ classified films often have overwhelmingly adult audiences despite their BBFC certificate”.

The body uses independent market research to determine the likely audience profile of a film, and whether it is therefore one where advertising alcohol is appropriate. It seems reasonable that a similar principle should apply to Juul, and a 15 rating should not be an automatic reason to consider the ad unacceptable.

Empirically, our UK team observes that where they have seen the Juul ad screened in cinemas, the audience has been overwhelmingly adult.

  • Meanwhile, over the big pond, another example of unfathomable confusion over relative harms and age-appropriateness.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives finds before it a bill that aims to raise to 21 the legal age to buy e-cigarettes – while leaving the age for buying combustibles at 19.

Does the worthy “lawmaker” who wants to make this law actually believe e-cigs are more dangerous than conventional smokes – especially, perhaps, for those aged 19 and 20? It’d be interesting to see the evidence that led to this conclusion.

But then, who needs evidence when you have free-running emotion and outrage on your side?

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