Understanding Smokeless Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Marketing

Investigator: Pamela Ling, MD
Sponsor: NIH National Cancer Institute

Location(s): United States


Tobacco use is responsible for 35% of cancer deaths, and it is important to understand how new, aggressive marketing for smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes impacts consumer perceptions of the risks and benefits of tobacco products, and the resultant patterns of tobacco use. Reducing this burden of disease requires understanding the design and effects of smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarette marketing, so that effective policies and programs may be developed to avoid a major expansion in tobacco use and decline in smoking cessation.

New smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes are rapidly entering the US market, and millions of dollars are being spent on their marketing. Marketing drives consumer perceptions of products, including risks or benefits, which translates into demand and determines who adopts the product and for what purposes. If the marketing inspires new interest in smoking cessation or results in substitution of safer products for cigarettes, it could result in population health benefit. If the marketing promotes dual use of new products along with cigarettes instead of cessation, or recruits young people to initiate tobacco use, it would result in harm. Understanding the marketing of smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes is fundamental to developing an appropriate public health response. It is critical to understand what messages promoting smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are reaching the public, which messages are most relevant, and how they affect perceptions of tobacco products. The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of smokeless tobacco and e- cigarette marketing strategies and how these strategies impact both emerging and existing tobacco product use. This project uses multiple complementary methods (analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents, monitoring current smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette marketing strategies, analyzing sales data, and conducting mixed methods consumer research) to accomplish three specific aims: (1) Use previously secret tobacco industry internal research and planning documents triangulated with contemporary trade press and market research to understand the strategic plans and marketing strategies manifest in new smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarette marketing activities (e.g., changes in product characteristics such as flavoring or appearance, new packaging, trends in price, sales, and different promotional channels). (2) Identify trends and new developments in smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette marketing messages by monitoring current advertising and performing content analyses, including analyses of changing target audiences, differences by promotional channel or company ownership, and changes in anticipation of or in response to regulation. (3) Compare the effects of exposure to smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette marketing messages and educational anti-tobacco messages on risk perceptions, attitudes, and intention to use emerging and existing tobacco products and e-cigarettes among dual and poly-users of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes.