By Bill Pfeifer
Fri Feb 8, 2013
Tobacco advertising has been banned from television since 1971; however, this important blackout shockingly did not seem to apply to electronic cigarettes during this year’s Super Bowl.
We were stunned to see that twice during the nation’s largest televised sporting events, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix aired a commercial that touted the use of e-cigarettes. The close-ups of a male smoker’s fingers maneuvering the e-cigarette and the vapors — which appeared to be smoke — escaping from his mouth might as well have been a Marlboro cigarette: The similarities were cunning and the message dangerous.
As has become an annual post-Super Bowl practice of advertising experts, the American Lung Association in Arizona rated the e-cigarette commercial. Its verdict: a definite loser. It was as if Congress had never passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned the advertising of cigarettes on television as of January 1971.
Costs were not spared in the creation of this polished and professionally produced television commercial to deliver a misleading message to the public. Ironically, the commercial promoted this e-cigarette as the first with “a look, feel and flavor of the real thing.” We would say that it has a whole lot in common with real cigarettes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found e-cigarette cartridges labeled as nicotine-free often have traceable levels of nicotine.
That means a smoker using e-cigarettes hoping to slowly break his nicotine habit is really exacerbating his addiction to the drug.
To make matters worse, FDA tests have found detectable levels of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including an ingredient used in antifreeze, in some e-cigarettes.
And, in further evidence that e-cigarette marketers will go to extremes to sell their products, e-cigarettes even are available in flavors that may appeal to impressionable children and teens, including chocolate, strawberry and mint.
E-cigarette companies sometimes say this product can help people stop smoking.
Going well beyond views and studies of the American Lung Association in Arizona, the World Health Organization knows of no evidentiary basis for the marketers’ claims that the electronic cigarette helps people quit smoking.
The American Lung Association in Arizona believes nicotine use, whether it is a regular cigarette or an e-cigarette, is still an addiction.
It has been proven that quitting is nearly impossible without the right combination of counseling support and access to services, including FDA-approved over-the-counter and prescribed medications.
Furthermore, overcoming an addiction is like any other chronic condition: best addressed with advice and intervention from a physician.
Doctors are best suited to provide advice because they are in tune with the health impacts of smoking and are on the cutting edge of treatment options, such as nicotine replacement therapies, medications and of resources like the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, 1-800-55-66-222.
In 2011, the FDA announced that e-cigarettes would be regulated as tobacco products unless the products are marketed as therapeutic.
Certainly, the television commercial that ran during the Super Bowl was a far cry from a therapeutic message.
The American Lung Association in Arizona urges the FDA to move forward with further regulatory guidance to prevent continued television advertising for this dangerous product before more misguided, slick misinformation gets center stage. CBS and the Super Bowl should have known better.
Bill J. Pfeifer is president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Southwest.