Introduction E-cigarettes are largely unregulated and internet sales are substantial. This study examines how the online market for e-cigarettes has changed over time: in product design and in marketing messages appearing on websites.
Methods Comprehensive internet searches of English-language websites from May–August 2012 and December 2013–January 2014 identified brands, models, flavours, nicotine strengths, ingredients and product claims. Brands were divided into older and newer groups (by the two searches) for comparison.
Results By January 2014 there were 466 brands (each with its own website) and 7764 unique flavours. In the 17 months between the searches, there was a net increase of 10.5 brands and 242 new flavours per month. Older brands were more likely than newer brands to offer cigalikes (86.9% vs 52.1%, p<0.01), and newer brands more likely to offer the more versatile eGos and mods (75.3% vs 57.8%, p<0.01). Older brands were significantly more likely to claim that they were healthier and cheaper than cigarettes, were good substitutes where smoking was banned and were effective smoking cessation aids. Newer brands offered more flavours per brand (49 vs 32, p<0.01) and were less likely to compare themselves with conventional cigarettes.
Conclusions The number of e-cigarette brands is large and has been increasing. Older brands tend to highlight their advantages over conventional cigarettes while newer brands emphasise consumer choice in multiple flavours and product versatility. These results can serve as a benchmark for future research on the impact of upcoming regulations on product design and advertising messages of e-cigarettes.
- Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices
- Public Policy
- Advertising and Promotion
- Non-Cigarette Tobacco Products
- Harm Reduction
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