Online Availability Of Electronic Cigarettes Is Exploding: Study
June 17, 2014

Online Availability Of Electronic Cigarettes Is Exploding: Study

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Both online and offline, e-cigarettes appear to be exploding in popularity and a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego has revealed the degree of diversity in complexity that has recently emerged in the industry.

According to their report published in the journal Tobacco Control, the researchers found an average of 10 new e-cigarette brand names entered the online marketplace on a monthly basis from 2012 to 2014. Currently, you can find 466 electronic cigarette brands on the internet, including greater than 7,700 flavors, such as gummy bear and marshmallow that may attract children. In comparison, traditional cigarettes sold in the United States can be just two flavors: tobacco and menthol.

The scientists also reported a change in the marketing and advertising of e-cigarettes, with newer brands selling tailor made e-cigarettes that could appear nothing like a conventional tobacco cigarette. For instance, some are made to resemble pens or flashlights.

The study team also found older brands were actually more likely to report that e-cigarettes were healthier or cheaper than cigarette smoking, or that e-cigarettes will help people stop smoking. Newer brands are much less inclined to make these statements. Instead, their marketing is centered on consumer choice, such as flavors or models, the report said.

"It almost seems that newer brands don't want to be compared to cigarettes, which are associated with the image of cancer," said study author Shu-Hong Zhu, director of the Center for Research and Interventions in Tobacco Control at UC San Diego.

Michael Siegel, a tobacco control expert at the Boston University School of Public Health, told USA Today that sweet flavors being marketed by newer e-cigarette brands may attract young smokers, even children, but he doesn’t see the devices as a sort of gateway for conventional cigarettes.

“It would be really hard to switch from a cherry e-cigarette to a Marlboro," he said. "In a way, the flavors are protective."

The new study comes as 129 physicians from 31 countries sent the World Health Organization an open letter on Monday that called for the imposition of strict regulations on e-cigarettes.

The letter said manufacturers should provide information that demonstrates the products are safe and assist smokers in quitting conventional cigarettes, as well as reveal ingredients in the "vaping" liquid the devices burn off.

Maciej Goniewicz, a toxicologist at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, told USA Today that regulations should support e-cigarette devices that help smokers quit and clamp down on products clearly designed to attract young people. He explicitly called for a general standard for e-cigarettes, which would include setting maximum temperatures devices could reach and levels of nicotine in the liquid being vaporized.

"Let's leave this product for the smokers, because it is very likely that this product is much safer [than cigarettes] and it might save their lives,” he said.

The authors of the new study warned new regulations would likely favor brands with strong financial backing, probably owned by legacy tobacco companies.

"Obviously, tobacco companies would be more concerned with protecting cigarette market share than smaller e-cigarette companies," Zhu said.