E-cigarette ads recall the 1960s charm of tobacco, but at what cost?

Trent Robinson of Fayetteville says that switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes has been a positive and healthy change. (Photo by Riley DePaolo)

Trent Robinson of Fayetteville says that switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes has been a positive and healthy change. (Photo by Riley DePaola)

By Riley DePaola

The Razorback Reporter

The glamour, elegance, charm and popularity evoked by cigarette ads on TV, billboards and magazines in the 1950s and ’60s disappeared in a puff when Congress banned such commercials on TV and radio in 1970.

Electronic cigarette companies have, in many ways, resurrected those images of glamour and popularity in advertisements that mirror old cigarette ads and encourage users to switch to e-cigarettes and “take back their freedom” by smoking e-cigarettes where conventional cigarettes are banned.

Nicknamed vapes, e-cigarettes were developed in China in 2003 and introduced to the U.S. in 2007, according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. E-cigarettes have become a marketing phenomenon in this country with annual sales reaching $2 billion in 2013 and estimated to increase to $10 billion to 2017, according to Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association.

What’s been banned from broadcast for 45 years is back in e-cigarette form with celebrity endorsements, sports sponsorships, online advertising, pricing strategies and product innovation, according to the Tobacco Tactics online site.  Unlike conventional cigarettes, advertising for the e-cigarette is legal.

Vapes deliver nicotine via flavorings and other chemicals to users in vapors; conventional cigarettes burn tobacco. The health risks associated with tobacco use are well documented, but less is known about the e-cigarette, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Trent Robinson, an employee of Vapor Spot in Fayetteville, smoked cigarettes before switching to an electronic cigarette after hearing from a friend that it was a better option. He thinks that the e-cigarette business has boomed so much because there are far fewer perceived health risks than with conventional cigarettes.

“I really enjoy the fact that I get nicotine in a safer delivery system,” Robinson said. “It fixes my addiction and the flavor is awesome.”

Electronic cigarettes are made up of five different parts: a cartridge, which holds a liquid solution containing nicotine; a heating device; a power source; an LED indicator; and a sensor. E-cigarettes use a device to heat liquid in a cartridge, which releases a chemical-filled aerosol. Some studies have shown that aside from already containing nicotine, e-cigarettes might also have other harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, according to the American Lung Association.

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Doctoral student Page Daniel Dobbs has been involved in tobacco research since high school. During her master’s thesis, she was brainstorming ideas of “what next” when her adviser suggested that she focus on e-cigarettes.

“They’re new and while there is more and more research every day about e-cigarettes, there’s still more questions to ask, so it’s fun and exciting,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs is conducting research at the UofA, regarding college students and their beliefs about the social norms surrounding e-cigarettes. Her research will answer the questions of how college students view e-cigarettes and how non-users look at those who smoke e-cigarettes.

The use of e-cigarettes among adolescents has gained a lot of attention in recent years. A study done in 2011 by the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that 1 in 20 high school students used an e-cigarette at least once and 1 in 50 used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. Fast forward to 2014 and the survey was repeated, but the numbers had increased dramatically.  One in 4 high school students reported that they have used an e-cigarette and 1 in 8 said they had used one in the last 30 days.

“Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote nicotine addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In March, the Arkansas Legislature prohibited the use of E-cigarettes at state-supported institutions of higher education.  The UofA already has an effective no-tobacco policy, which extends to e-cigarettes.

While the health risks regarding electronic cigarettes are yet to be determined, according to the CDC, the hard fact is that the devices still contains nicotine, which remains highly addictive, regardless of the user’s age.

Robinson said he has stopped smoking conventional cigarettes and now only smokes from an e-cigarette. However, he knows the switch has done nothing to stop his nicotine addiction.

“Days that I don’t have nicotine I freak out,” said Robinson, whose job at Vapor Spot keeps him close to nicotine. “Days that I do have my nicotine, I’m fine.”

In contrast to when he smoked tobacco, Robinson said that he feels a lot healthier since switching to e-cigarettes. He noticed a difference in his exercise and daily activities, Robinson said.

“If someone is trying to quit smoking; if they can completely put down a cigarette,” Dobbs said, and pick up an e-cigarette “then yes, I think they will see health benefits.”