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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC-led Studies Examine e-Cigarette Availability, Advertising Effectiveness

Two new studies on e-cigarettes by researchers at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health are among the first to examine the availability of these products nationwide and how advertisements are affecting consumer perceptions. Both were published in a special July issue of the journal Tobacco Control.


[Photo: Dr. Shyanika Rose (left) and Dr. Jessica Pepper]

The first study, “The availability of electronic cigarettes in U.S. retail outlets, 2012: results of two national studies”, was led by Dr. Shyanika Rose, doctoral candidate in the Gillings School’s department of health behavior at the time of the study.

Study researchers examined two independent samples of national tobacco retailers in 2012; the first sample comprised 2,165 outlets, and the second comprised 2,426. The survey found that availability of e-cigarettes exceeded 31 percent of the outlets examined. Tobacco shops, pharmacies, gas stations, and convenience stores surveyed were more likely to sell e-cigarettes, as compared with beer, wine, and liquor outlets, which were least likely to carry such products.

The study also found economic and geographic factors contributed to market availability of e-cigarettes. The products were more available for sale in neighborhoods with higher median income and less likely to be available in neighborhoods that were predominantly African-American or Hispanic. Availability also was higher in states with an American Lung Association “Smoke-Free Air” grade of F or D than in states with a grade of A.

The full study is available online here.

The second study, “Effects of advertisements on smokers’ interest in trying e-cigarettes: the roles of product comparison and visual cues”, was led by Dr. Jessica Pepper, doctoral candidate in the Gillings School’s department of health behavior at the time of the study and now a postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Pepper and her fellow researchers surveyed 3,253 self-identified smokers across the U.S. who had never tried e-cigarettes. The smokers viewed an online advertisement promoting e-cigarettes using one of three messages  – one that emphasized similarities to regular cigarettes, one that emphasized differences, and a third that offered no comparison. Three different images were combined with each advertisement strategy to create nine different advertisements. After seeing the ads, smokers were asked to indicate their interest in trying e-cigarettes.

Ads that emphasized differences between e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes elicited the most interest. The subjects responded most strongly to claims that e-cigarettes’ cost less, are healthier and would help with smoking cessation. Smokers also preferred ads that showed a person using e-cigarettes, a behavior that is similar in appearance to smoking.

According to Dr. Pepper, knowing which advertising strategies make e-cigarettes attractive will be important as more information about the effects of e-cigarettes becomes known.

The full study can be found here.

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