Researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania have found that simply watching e-cigarette ads can make a former smoker fall off the wagon and start smoking again. Current smokers too are also being enticed, making them likelier to reach for a tobacco cigarette during the day after seeing an advertisement.

In a study published in the journal Health Communication, researchers surveyed over 800 former, intermittent and daily smokers after watching an e-cigarette advertisement. A standard test was used to measure urges to smoke and it was found that those who smoked tobacco cigarettes on a daily basis and saw an e-cigarette advertisement on TV have greater urges to smoke than daily smokers who didn't see an e-cig ad. Those who have quit and have seen an e-cig advertisement also reported that they were less confident they can stay away from tobacco cigarettes than their counterparts who have not seen any ads about e-cigarettes or vaping.

Advertisements for tobacco cigarettes were banned more than 40 years ago. They are replaced by e-cigarette ads today, which are estimated to result into spending of over $1 billion. Over the next four years, this figure is expected to rise by 50 percent. Given the effect these advertisements have on smokers, tobacco companies may have just found a new outlet they can take advantage of without going against the law.

Erin Maloney, Ph.D., one of the authors for the study, explained that e-cigarette advertisements trigger urges in tobacco smokers because smoking cues, like images of cigarettes or smoke, heighten the feeling and decrease resolution in former smokers that they can resist taking a puff.

"Because many e-cigarette brands that have a budget to advertise on television are visually similar to tobacco cigarettes, we wanted to see if similar effects can be attributed to e-cigarette advertising," she added.

Maloney and colleague Joseph Cappella discovered that more than 35 percent of daily smokers who saw e-cigarette advertisements had a tobacco cigarette during the course of the study compared to 22 percent in daily smokers who saw non-vaping advertisements and the 23 percent in daily smokers who didn't see advertisements.

The researchers concluded that it should be expected that big tobacco companies will take advantage of e-cigarette advertisements and insert as many smoking cues as possible. If these advertisements are not regulated then, people will be exposed to so much more smoking-related advertising.

Health Communication editor Teresa Thompson, Ph.D. commented that the results of the study should be taken into consideration in ongoing policy and health discussions as they point out that concerns over e-cigarettes have gone beyond just their effects on health.

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