Marketing for the Vuse electronic cigarette will return to the airwaves in March with a national television commercial that coincides with an expanded youth-use prevention initiative.
The 30-second ad is for the Vuse Alto product made by R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. The ad is available online and is planned to run on cable channels that include CNN, The History Channel and AMC.
The liquid vapor is made at Reynolds’ manufacturing plant in Tobaccoville.
The company ran a 60-second Vuse commercial in Colorado beginning in September 2013 during late-night television programs and at other times when adults made up at least 85 percent of the viewership of adult-oriented content. The company has not said when that campaign ended.
The 60-second ad was the first Reynolds tobacco-product commercial to air since cigarette advertising on TV was banned by the federal government in 1971.
Reynolds said the Vuse Alto campaign will follow similar educational and marketing criteria, including using an independent data service to verify that the commercial “is restricted to programming content and scheduling that is not directed to youth and that is relevant to audiences 21 years old or older.”
“We are extremely pleased to have launched a television commercial for a product that, through its features and our responsible marketing practices, is clearly intended for adult tobacco consumers,” said Christy-Canary-Garner, vice president of for the Vuse brand.
“We have demonstrated that vapor products can be marketed responsibly to adult tobacco consumers and remain committed to this goal.”
Gregory Conley, president of American Vaping Association, said given that “Reynolds has lived through the Master Settlement Agreement and knows what necessitated it perhaps more than any other U.S. company, it’s doubtful anything in these commercials will raise the ire of the FDA.”
Reynolds said its enhanced youth-prevention efforts include new purchase limits at www.vusevapor.com, such as limiting customers from ordering more than $80 per week, as well as no more than three Vuse Alto devices every three months.
The website already uses a third-party age verification process for potential purchasers or consumers receiving marketing materials.
“By building on Reynolds’ longstanding commitment to reduce youth use of tobacco, these additional practices are designed to combat potential misuse,” the company said.
A tough spot for Reynolds
Reynolds Vapor appears to be stepping through a window of opportunity — possibly a fleeting one — to advertise its products on TV to adult smokers.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, announced Nov. 15 plans to limit e-cig flavors to tobacco, menthol and mint, as well as attempt to ban menthol in traditional cigarettes.
It could take the FDA several years, and likely multiple lawsuits, before it could implement all of its regulatory changes involving the flavorings of traditional and e-cigs.
Gottlieb said the EPA policy framework reflects “a balance between closing the on-ramp for kids to become addicted to nicotine through combustible and non-combustible products, while maintaining access to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery through (e-cigs) for adult smokers seeking to transition away from combustible tobacco products.”
“Reynolds is in a tough spot,” said David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of several e-cigs and health studies.
“If they fail to do their best to inform cigarette smokers that there are massively less hazardous alternatives available, they open themselves to crippling litigation from those ultimately harmed.”
“But if they seek to transition smokers to the safer products, they risk the wrath of the FDA.
“Their marketing plan thus seems reasonable — they act responsibly, and if the FDA stops them, the company has a solid defense in any future litigation.
Scott Ballin, past chairman of the anti-smoking alliance Coalition of Science or Health, said the TV ads could be viewed as trying to assist Gottlieb’s initiative to inform adult smokers “that they have viable consumer acceptable alternatives, such as vaping products.”
“There is and will be a market for these products, especially if the youth issue can be effectively dealt with. Reynolds’ advertising campaign is like a goodwill tour to head of any criticism.”
More e-cig ads on TV
Juul Labs Inc., maker of top-selling e-cig Juul, launched its first TV campaign in January.
The ads will be shown late at night on cable television. The company said the ads are aimed at adults age 35 and older who are considering quitting traditional cigarettes.
Juul confirmed that initially it will spend $10 million on the campaign.
There also were TV ads for blu eCigs, now owned by a subsidiary of Imperial Brands, that ran earlier this decade that featured actress Jenny McCarthy.
Juul’s TV marketing plans were disclosed after Altria, maker of top-selling traditional cigarette Marlboro, said on Dec. 20 that it would spend $12.8 billion to buy 35 percent of Juul. Juul keeps its independence while gaining access to Altria’s distribution channel, pivotal retail shelf space in more than 230,000 locations, and operational and regulatory expertise.
Gottlieb has expressed concerns since the investment was announced about whether Altria and Juul are sincere in their commitment to reducing youth use of tobacco products given the broader reach of Juul in the Altria distribution chain.
Juul is sold in the form of a pen or a USB device. That design makes it easy to hide, which Gottlieb says has contributed to “an epidemic” of teenage use, albeit based on a small sample size nationally.
Anti-tobacco advocates consider e-cigs — as well as smokeless tobacco and dissolvable tobacco products — as potential gateways to the use of traditional cigarettes.
Several studies, however, have demonstrated that there is no direct connection, particularly given that youth-smoking rates have declined throughout the decade even as youth e-cig usage has increased.
In April 2015, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter to Reynolds, Altria Group Inc., Logic Technology, Lorillard Inc. and NJOY, asking them to curtail, if not remove, their TV e-cig ads.
“Many e-cigarette advertisements currently on air make clear companies are trying to target a wider audience than what many in your industry claim is the intended market: those who are looking to quit smoking,” Boxer wrote.
Ballin said that given Gottlieb’s “aggressive actions to clamp on the targeting of e-cigarettes to youth, the major companies obviously want to make it known that they are listening and taking action.”
“Whether it is enough remains to be seen.”
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