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Electronic cigarette marketers manipulate antitobacco advertisements to promote vaping
  1. Divya Ramamurthi,
  2. Raj P Fadadu,
  3. Robert K Jackler
  1. Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, Department of Otolaryngology -Head & Neck Surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine Stanford, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Robert K Jackler, Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, 801 Welch Road, Stanford, CA 94305, USA; jackler{at}stanford.edu

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Introduction

A device commonly used by public health advocates is the alteration of cigarette advertisements to convey an antismoking message.1 ,2 Well-known examples include ‘Joe Chemo’ for Joe Camel and ‘Fool’ for Kool.3 Our group has assembled an online collection of some 162 cigarette advertising ‘knock offs’ (unauthorised modifications) encompassing 35 brands created by enterprising antitobacco advocates.4

Recently, a new genre of adapted advertisements has appeared in which the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) industry or its supporters have modified antismoking advertisements for the purposes of promoting vaping. These advertisements, which were originally intended to communicate the adverse health consequences of smoking, were altered to promote the supposed healthfulness of e-cigarettes. We have identified 12 educational advertisements that were altered either by e-cigarette brands or vaping advocacy groups.

Australian Government campaign: Stop Smoking Start Repairing

Four advertisements in our sample modify the Australian Government's “Stop Smoking Start Repairing” advertisements to read “Stop Smoking Start Vaping” (figure 1). The original antismoking campaign was intended to raise awareness of the health benefits of quitting traditional cigarettes, a promotional tactic also widely used by e-cigarette brands.5 While we could not identify the original maker of these altered advertisements, variations of them pervade the online vaporsphere. The e-cigarette company GreenSmartLiving and vendors such as South Side Vapor, eJuice House and DJ's Vapes have used this tactic to promote their products. In addition, the advertisements appear on advocacy and review sites such as Vapor Awareness, Steam Cloud and Cig Lion.

Figure 1

The Australian Government's Stop Smoking Start Repairing campaign advertisement (left) and its electronic cigarette industry modification (right). Note that the title word “Repairing” has been replaced with “Vaping”, and the text describing “In 5 days” has been altered from the original “Most nicotine is out of your body” to the rather abstruse claim “You'll feel better from drinking more water and less flavoured drinks”.

Aside from saying “Vaping” instead of “Repairing” in the title, the modified advertisements contain the tangentially relevant statement “You'll feel better from drinking more water and less flavoured drinks” as opposed to the original “Most nicotine is out of your body” health benefit.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention campaign: Tips From Former Smokers

Eight antismoking knock off advertisements are modifications of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) advertisements for its Tips From Former Smokers campaign (figure 2). The altered advertisements were published by an organisation titled NOTBlowingSmoke as part of its campaign opposing the California Department of Public Health's Still Blowing Smoke anti-e-cigarette campaign.6 ,7 NOTBlowingSmoke is an advocacy group for e-cigarettes, with close ties to the e-cigarette industry. Their website lists four creators, including an e-cigarette company marketing manager (Apollo) and vape store employees.

Figure 2

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Tips From Former Smokers campaign advertisement (left) and its modification by the vaping advocacy group NOTBlowingSmoke (right). Note the faithful mimicry of the composition and imagery as well as substitution of CDC's antismoking message with the ironic tag line: “Sick of being mislead by harmful propaganda?”.

The CDC campaign's use of emotional testimonials by real people afflicted with tobacco-induced diseases has been shown to be effective in studies.8 ,9 NOTBlowingSmoke borrowed this advertising technique for its own Quit & Tell (3 advertisements) and A Tip From A Former Smoker (5 advertisements) campaigns. The five advertisements from NOTBlowingSmoke's A Tip From A Former Smoker campaign use the same campaign logo as the CDC's advertisements. Furthermore, all eight advertisements copy the iconography of the original advertisements: a picture of the individual and his or her testimonial at the top portion of the advertisement and website links in the bottom right rectangle.

Discussion

Antibranding activism, sometimes called subvertising, is quite different from the more pervasive practice of knocking off a competitor's advertisements for commercial advantage.10 Manipulating tobacco advertisements to convey criticism via parody is considered non-commercial speech.11 ,12 As such, these spoof advertisements may be considered fair use of copyrighted material under US law.13 Unlike government-issued antismoking advertisement parodies, which are based on scientific evidence, the knock off advertisements by the e-cigarette industry are misleading and deceptive. They also make no attempt at humour or parody. These copycat advertisements hijack the intended purpose of antitobacco material for use in either pro e-cigarette propaganda or promotion of a specific e-cigarette brand. Their adaptation of antismoking advertisements can not only create confusion among the public, but is an illegal infringement of their creators’ copyright privilege. The Australian Quitline website indicates its copyright work can be reproduced only in an unaltered form for non-commercial use.14 The CDC website states its antismoking materials “may be used only by non-profit health-related organisations or government agencies”.15 Ironically, the NOTBlowingSmoke website, which so liberally infringes on CDC's copyright material, contains an admonition that its content is “copyright with all rights reserved”.6

It should be pointed out that significant barriers exist to enforcement of these copyright transgressions. Once a knock off advertisement has appeared online, its wide dispersal on the web makes recall a practical impossibility. We found four e-cigarette brands/vendors and three vaping advocacy websites that used the adulterated Australian Government's “Stop Smoking Start Repairing” line, likely only a fraction of its actual appearance. Identification of the original author of the knock off may be challenging, as it has become very easy for even those with minimal digital graphic skills to create derivative advertisements. Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile for creators of antismoking advertisements to defend their copyright by notifying e-cigarette companies and organisations to cease and desist using modifications of their educational material. Even more effective would be for the original makers to request online sites such as Google, Yahoo, Instagram and Pinterest to block the URL from knock off advertisements.

References

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Footnotes

  • Contributors RPF identified the advertisements and proposed the study. Data analysis and manuscript preparation were completed by DR and RKJ.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.