UK study finds e-cigarettes aren’t replacing traditional cigarettes, but their sales rise as unregulated TV ads for them increase

A study led by a University of Kentucky researcher found that electronic cigarettes have not become a substitute for traditional cigarettes, but their use is increasing, especially as television commercials for the products increase, Carol Lea Spence reports for UK AgNews.

“Cigarette purchases have dropped a bit, from about 90 percent to 80 percent of all tobacco products during the past 15 years, but it’s still a big player. Other tobacco product sales are growing, though—particularly e-cigarettes,” Yuqing Zheng, lead researcher and an agricultural economist in UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, told Spence.

The study, published in The American Journal of Agricultural Economics, looked at the habit formation of non-cigarette products and studied usage in five categories, including: cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigarillos and cigars, Spence reports.

The study collected data from convenience stores in 30 U.S. markets, looking for evidence to support that e-cigarettes had become a substitute for traditional cigarettes. It also investigated whether consumers purchased products based on cost and advertising.

They found that when the price of e-cigarettes went up, it did not increase the demand for traditional cigarettes. And not surprisingly, it also found that the purchase of e-cigarettes increased with increased TV advertising, but not with increased magazine advertisements.

“This adds to the policy discussion,” Zheng told Spence. “While cigarettes are strictly regulated in terms of advertising, there are no advertising restrictions on e-cigarettes.”

The study also found that based on consumption patterns, all five tobacco products in the study were habit forming, and e-cigarettes had the “highest degree of habit formation,” Zheng told Spence.

Zheng attributed that to three things: Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive; they can be used in places where traditional cigarettes are banned; and because they don’t burn out, people use them for longer periods of time, Spence reports.

Zheng told Spence that there is no scientific evidence to prove e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, and noted that the study found that people will generally buy traditional cigarettes regardless of the price, but in general are “more responsive to price increases” of non-cigarette tobacco.

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