E-cigarettes and vape companies are courting smokers and non-smokers alike, and they have the advertising to match. Some of the ads from one company, Blu, included “fake” advisories like “WARNING: Contains flavor.” A new study published in the journal Tobacco Control found that boys who saw ads with that type of fake warning were less likely to recall information in the ad about possible health impacts.
“The ads we found from Blu in 2017 had these fake warnings at the top that really adhered to the warning messages requirements that are now required on e-cigarette ads by the FDA,” says Brittney Keller-Hamilton, the study’s lead and a researcher at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health.
“They said things like, ‘Important: vaping Blu smells good’ and ‘Important: less harmful to your wallet,'” she says. “And we know that these messages are likely to resonate well with adolescents,” she said.
But it wasn’t just that those messages would entice the boys. Keller-Hamilton and her team found that they also distracted the readers from the actual health advisories.
“Boys who were randomly assigned to view ads with fake warnings were less likely to recall the actual warning on the advertisement or to remember health risks conveyed in that actual warning,” she said.
The FDA now requires large warnings on the ads, which Keller-Hamilton believes will make this sort of campaign harder to replicate. But it could have implications for the rest of the industry.
“This is a really big concern for cigarette ads, for instance, because those still have smaller warnings,” she said. “And cigarette ads could put fake warnings at the top of their advertisements to even further reduce the impact of their actual warnings for adolescents.”