The Office of the Surgeon General the Federal Health Department as well as the World Health Organization do not share this opinion. The evidence is overwhelming that e-cigarettes are harmful to healthhowever, because they are so new (they first appeared on the US market in 2007, their effects over time are not as clear).
E-cigarettes are marketed online as a harmless recreational activity. Vape juice, which may or may NOT contain nicotine, is available in flavors such as gummy bears, chocolate treats, and cherry crushes. Social media influencers show off fun vaping tricks or how to customize e-cigarette devices. There are even vaping groups that offer social support.
Any federal Australian legislation does not cover E-cigarettes. Several laws apply to tobacco, poisons, and therapeutic products. In all Australian states and territories, the sale of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes is prohibited. However, users with a prescription can import these products legally through a personal importation scheme.
Some parts of Australia allow the sale of products that don’t contain nicotine as long as they do not make therapeutic claims. Our research revealed that the internet facilitates people’s access to nicotine and vaping products despite Australian restrictions. Three-quarters (75%) of all e-cigarette sales are made online.
Where is vaping promoted on the internet?
You can find the content using a smartphone and some relevant hashtags, such as #vapelife or #vapesale, and related terms, such as #ejuice.
Images from Instagram and Twitter show a mix of modern advertising tactics and advertising tropes that the tobacco industry has used for decades. Images of women scantily clad with e-cigarettes are displayed, as well as details about tempting vape juice flavors and discounts. This content is shocking.
Twitter: Old-school marketing tactics
The growth in e-cigarettes is supported by this promotion, as well as the product variety and allure, the ease of online purchases, and the lack of age verification. Social media is primarily used by young people, who are targeted directly.
E-cigarettes have been called an ” Epidemic among Youth“. Since 2013, lifetime e-cigarette use in Australia has increased, with rates almost tripling for those aged 18-24.
The increased use of e-cigarettes by young Australians should be a cause for concern. Although the promotion and advertising for this product are tightly regulated off-line, with age restrictions that are relatively easily enforced, posing online as an adult can often be achieved by simply ticking a few boxes.
Many adolescents still have favorable opinions of e-cigarettes, despite their dangers. Young people believe e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smoking as they contain fewer harmful chemicals. They also pose fewer risks to their health from secondhand vapor.
Infiltrating youth media is a long-standing tradition for tobacco companies. Most Australians between the ages of 18 and 29 spend more than 100 minutes per day using social media. The visibility of e-cigarettes on social media can encourage awareness, encourage experimentation, and increase uptake.
Social media platforms have their tobacco advertising policies. Facebook and Instagram specify.
Advertisements cannot promote electronic cigarettes, vapourizers, or other products that simulate tobacco smoking.
The policy now applies to private sales, trades, or transfers of tobacco products. Brands that post content related to tobacco products, including the sale and transfer of those products, must limit it only to adults aged 18 or older. Is this possible on social media?
The landing page and ad creatives must not promote or display tobacco or tobacco products, such as cigars or tobacco pipes.
On social media, where “influencer content” is king, there is a blurring of the lines between organic content and product placements.
In 2012, Australia introduced legislation to combat this online phenomenon. It made it illegal to promote or advertise tobacco products over the Internet unless they were compliant with advertising laws. This legislation does not ban the sale of tobacco products online or vaping products. It also has little effect on advertisements that come from foreign websites.
The extent and the explicitness of the e-cigarette content on social media is not known to health authorities or regulators. There is no doubt that more needs to be done against it.
Australia is one of close to 170 countries that have signed the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which asks nations not to advertise tobacco products. This includes e-cigarettes.
It is time to act. Australia and other countries that source this content need to prioritize public health. It is important to improve surveillance, monitoring, and curtailment of content that glorifies e-cigarettes, as well as age verification practices.