Truth in Advertising (TINA), a nonprofit based in Connecticut, examined the firms’ online content including “social media, testimonials, [and] links to studies or media reports” – not just advertising in the conventional sense – to enumerate claims of four kinds that it contends are misleading:
- That e-cigarettes have health benefits.
- That they can help with smoking cessation.
- That they can be legally used nearly everywhere.
- That they are cheaper than tobacco smoking.
Two thirds of the suppliers made at least one of these assertions, it found.
Most frequently seen were health-benefit claims, made by around half the companies. More than 40% suggested that e-cigs are cheaper than tobacco cigarettes; nearly a third referred to e-cigs’ usefulness in giving up smoking, while a similar number said their products could be used virtually anywhere.
TINA also noted examples of companies selling e-liquid in what it calls “kid friendly flavors”, and found that around 40% offered such products.
“Online e-cigarette companies are taking advantage of the regulatory gap to market their wares with a variety of suspect claims. Some are blatant while others are subtle, craftily-drafted veiled claims,” TINA said.
Only three companies of the 159 fell foul of TINA’s criteria in all four categories and also sold flavoured e-liquid with supposedly child-friendly flavours: they were LeCig, Mt. Baker Vapor, and VapingZone.
Last year a notification from TINA was among the prompts that led Utah’s division of consumer protection to crack down on e-cig companies that had “advertised false health claims, posted false customer testimonials, marketed ‘free’ trial offers that were not in fact free of charge, and…charged customer accounts without consent”.
What This Means: It is a little unfortunate that TINA – a respectable, generally non-hysterical organisation – saw fit to jump on the “kiddie flavours” bandwagon, since selling these products has nothing to do with the issue of truth in advertising, regardless of whom they may or may not appeal to.
However, we shouldn’t write off the research because of that. It’s undoubtedly the case that, while the industry as a whole is responsible, there are a lot of dubious claims being made for e-cigs online.
This likely out of ignorance or enthusiasm in most cases, rather than with any intention to deceive; but that won’t be a much of an excuse in the eyes of regulators. Bringing this issue to the forefront with some startling numbers is therefore welcome.
– Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff