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Rapid increase in e-cigarette advertising spending as Altria's MarkTen enters the marketplace
  1. Jennifer Cantrell1,2,
  2. Brittany Emelle1,3,
  3. Ollie Ganz1,3,
  4. Elizabeth C Hair1,2,
  5. Donna Vallone1,4
  1. 1Evaluation Science and Research, Truth Initiative, Washington DC, USA
  2. 2Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Department of Prevention & Community Health, George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health, Washington DC, USA
  4. 4Global Institute of Public Health, New York University, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer Cantrell, Evaluation Science and Research, Truth Initiative (formerly American Legacy Foundation), 1724 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20036, USA; jcantrell{at}

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In early 2014, the nation's largest cigarette maker, Altria1 (formerly Phillip Morris Companies) announced the national launch of their MarkTen e-cigarette. Nu Mark, an Altria company, is behind the design and marketing of the brand.2 Altria is the last major tobacco company to join the estimated $2 billion market for e-cigarettes,3 following Lorillard's acquisition of the blu e-cigarette brand in 20124 and RJ Reynold's introduction of Vuse5 in 2013.

Using Competitrack, an advertising service that systematically collects data related to all top market US advertisements, we reviewed e-cigarette advertising expenditures for the year 2014 and examined the top two highest spending brands for the year (MarkTen and blu). Competitrak monitors advertising over 22 media sources, including network TV, national newspapers, cinema, radio and online, and includes advertisements and associated metadata of the media channel, channel-specific details and estimated expenditures for placement of ads.6–9 For online advertisements, Competitrack monitors the top 4000 websites/URLs for online display creative, the top 2000 websites/URLs for online display spend and the top 500 websites/URLs for online video creative and expenditures. This analysis includes television, radio, magazine and online spending (both online displays and online videos). Surveillance of e-cigarette advertising at the point-of-sale,10 which is the dominant channel for marketing traditional cigarettes,11 is not part of Competitrack advertising surveillance.

In early 2014, blu (which was recently acquired by Imperial Tobacco12) was on track to lead spending in the e-cigarette advertising category. In June of that year, MarkTen advertising entered the national market, surpassing blu's spend for that month. While blu's advertising expenditures fluctuated during the year, MarkTen's overall expenditures largely increased from June through December, with their highest monthly spend of $7 million in the final month of the year (figure 1). By the end of 2014, MarkTen led the category, with total advertising expenditures of over $35 million; blu was the second highest spender, with $30 million in expenditures. E-cigarette advertising spending for 2014 totalled $88.1 million, a 52% increase from 2013.

Figure 1

MarkTen and blu electronic cigarette advertising expenditures in 2014.

MarkTen's advertising approach was relatively unique in that the early ads were fairly simple, sleek and emphasised the product's high-tech design (see figure 2). Interestingly, ads did not feature elements such as young people using the product—which are often seen in blu and other major e-cigarette brand ads (figure 3). However, in the fourth quarter of 2014, advertisements from MarkTen began to feature young adults smoking, pleasure and fun—aspects similar to other e-cigarette brand advertising—but still showcasing the high-tech features of their product (figure 4). Twenty-two of the 26 unique MarkTen advertisements for the year were in print channels and placed in over 25 consumer magazines such as Elle, In Touch Weekly, Maxim and Sports Illustrated.

Figure 2

MarkTen e-cigarette advertisement.

Figure 3

blu e-cigarette advertisement in 2014.

Figure 4

MarkTen e-cigarette advertisement in 2014.

Previous research has demonstrated that e-cigarette advertising is reaching young people.13 Findings from this analysis demonstrate a significant increase in e-cigarette advertising spending from 2013 to 2014. This increase in spending occurred during the same time period that past 30-day use of e-cigarettes tripled among middle and high school students (from 1.1% to 3.9% and 4.5% to 13.4%, respectively).14 ,15 Further, advertisements employed themes that may appeal to youth and were featured in magazines that reach millions of young people each year.8 ,13 While this study does not provide a link between advertising expenditures and youth e-cigarette use, extensive research has documented a relationship between tobacco industry advertising and tobacco product initiation and progression among young people.16

The significant increase in e-cigarette advertising spending, the use of youth-oriented messages and the introduction of a major new tobacco manufacturer in the marketplace highlight the critical need for increased surveillance and regulation of e-cigarette advertising. E-cigarette advertising expenditures and content should be monitored closely across media channels, including social media, to understand the potential reach to youth and young adults. Efforts should also include monitoring point-of-sale advertising as it is increasingly a key venue for the industry to promote e-cigarettes,17 ,18 as well as improved surveillance of online advertising. While the Food and Drug Administration deliberates on possible regulation of these products, there is an urgent need for research to inform specific regulations to restrict the advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes to youth.



  • Contributors JC, BE and OG conceptualised and wrote the article. BE analysed the data. ECH and DV provided feedback on the article.

  • Funding This work was funded by Truth Initiative (formerly American Legacy Foundation).

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

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