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Electronic cigarette retailers use Pokémon Go to market products
  1. Matthew G Kirkpatrick1,
  2. Tess Boley Cruz1,
  3. Nicholas I Goldenson1,
  4. Jon-Patrick Allem1,
  5. Kar-Hai Chu2,
  6. Mary Ann Pentz1,
  7. Jennifer B Unger1
  1. 1 Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
  2. 2 Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matthew G Kirkpatrick, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, 2001 North Soto Street, Los Angeles, CA 90032, USA; mgkirkpa{at}

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Recently, we witnessed a new marketing strategy in which vape shops and online e-cigarette retailers have harnessed the popularity of the interactive smartphone game Pokémon Go to promote vaping products. This approach combines the strengths of recent and traditional strategies thought to be effective in promoting tobacco use to adolescents and young adults: (1) cartoons;1 tobacco product placement in video games2 ,3 and (2) interactive promotional contests.4 ,5

Pokémon Go (created by the game developer Niantic6) is an augmented reality videogame for smartphones that uses the phone's global positioning system (GPS) system to identify real-world locations containing a variety of different Pokémon (ie, cartoon creatures) that appear on the phone screen overlaid on a real-world background (figure 1). The game's primary goal is for the player to travel in the real world, capture Pokémon and send them into battle against other Pokémon at ‘gyms’. To facilitate gameplay, Niantic has designated numerous real-world locations as ‘PokéStops’ (ie, locations where users can obtain tools to increase their power).

Figure 1

Smartphone screenshots of Pokemon images overlaid on real-world backgrounds (left panel: USC Department of Preventive Medicine; right panel: Los Angeles-based vape shop).

The majority of these PokéStops have been repurposed from Ingress, Niantic's previous augmented …

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  • Contributors MGK, TBC, NIG, J-PA, K-HC, MAP, JBU conceived the paper. MGK and NIG wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All coauthors provided substantial feedback on the paper and approved the final version.

  • Funding The study was supported by National Cancer Institute (NCI P50 CA180905).

  • Competing interests None declared.

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