Study finds young adults who recognize cartoons used in e-cigarette marketing are more likely to use e-cigs in the future

Label, copyright 2015 by Brian Allen

Electronic cigarette companies are using cartoon characters to market their products, and research shows that it’s working, Jon-Patrick Allem writes on The Conversation. 

Allem is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California and one of the researchers on a study that found young adults who recognize the cartoons used in the marketing of electronic cigarettes are more likely to use e-cigarettes in the future.

“In other words, among never-users, recognition of actual cartoon-based marketing images – but not recognition of non-cartoon-based marketing images – was associated with a greater likelihood of participants reporting susceptibility to use electronic cigarettes,” Allem writes.

The study, published in the refereed journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, examined whether a person’s susceptibility to using e-cigarettes in the future increased as a result of their exposure to cartoon-based marketing from e-cig companies.

prior study by Allem and his colleagues had already established that e-cigarette makers are using cartoons as a marketing strategy, and that many companies’ logos are cartoons. Cartoon marketing for e-cigs is unregulated, though restrictions on cartoon marketing for combustible cigarettes and chewing tobacco have been in place since 1999.

Using an online survey, the researchers presented the participants with 22 images of electronic cigarette products, 11 of them had a cartoon on the packaging and 11 of them did not.

The study found that 38% of the 802 participants recognized at least one cartoon-based marketing image. Among the 286 never-users, individuals who reported cartoon recognition were four times more likely to be susceptible to using e-cigarettes in the future compared to those not susceptible.

Susceptibility was measured by responses to a series of questions such as, “Do you think that you will try vaping soon?,” Allem writes.

The researchers controlled for demographic characteristics and exposure to other types of marketing that may be associated with susceptibility to use electronic cigarettes, “allowing us to confidently claim that cartoon recognition is associated with susceptibility,” Allem reports.

Further, he writes that these findings “are consistent with prior research that examined the impact of cartoon-based marketing on the purchase and use of a range of products from combustible cigarettes to sugary foods.”

Allem says his study does not explain why cartoon recognition is associated with susceptibility to using electronic cigarettes in the future, but other research suggest it is because cartoons are a simple and fun way to communicate an idea that increases attention to a product, which ultimately leads to product recognition and altered attitudes.

He also recognized that the study only provides a correlation between cartoon marketing of electronic cigarettes and susceptibility to using them. He also notes points out that the study only included adults and that he plans to expand it to youth.

Allem writes, “We believe that our findings could motivate policies aimed at reducing cartoon-based electronic cigarette marketing similar to those for combustible cigarettes and chewing tobacco.”

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