Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have risen in popularity in the U.S. While recent studies have described the prevalence and demographics of e-cigarette users, few studies have evaluated the impact of advertising on perceptions and interest in trial. This pilot study was conducted to assess whether exposure to ads for e-cigarettes or a comparison product (snus), elicited differences in interest to try e-cigarettes between smokers and non-smokers.
A web-based survey was completed by 600 respondents, aged 18–65, recruited from an internet panel in the U.S. Respondents answered questions assessing tobacco use, and then viewed nine magazine ads for Blu e-cigarettes or Camel snus, a low-nitrosamine smokeless tobacco product, in random order. After viewing each ad, respondents were asked a series of questions about their perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and interest in trial. At the end, respondents were asked to choose a free sample product from the following options: an e-cigarette, smokeless tobacco (SLT), pack of cigarettes, or no product.
Ad receptivity scores did not appear to be influenced by ad theme; differences existed between smokers and non-smokers. Participants exposed to e-cigarette ads more frequently reported favorable product attitudes compared to participants exposed to snus ads. Cigarette smokers in the e-cigarette condition were more likely to report interest in trying e-cigarettes compared to non-smokers in that condition (p-value < 0.001). Six percent of non-smokers exposed to e-cigarette ads reported interest in trying e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes were the most popular product selected to sample (34 %), followed by cigarettes (8 %) and SLT (3 %); 331 respondents (55 %) chose no product. Participants randomized to the e-cigarette ad group were significantly more likely to choose an e-cigarette at product selection (p-value = 0.014). Within the e-cigarette condition, 71 % of smokers selected an e-cigarette at product selection, compared to 25 % of non-smokers; smoking status was significantly associated with sample product selection (p-value <0.001).
These findings suggest that exposure to e-cigarette ads may be associated with interest in e-cigarette trial, particularly among smokers. Continued exposure to advertising in magazines, on television, and at the point-of-sale may have an impact on willingness to receive promotional products or intention to try e-cigarettes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12971-015-0039-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.