Health Communication: Published online: 11 Mar 2015
Visual depictions of vaping in electronic cigarette advertisements may serve as smoking cues to smokers and former smokers, increasing urge to smoke and smoking behavior, and decreasing self-efficacy, attitudes, and intentions to quit or abstain.
After assessing baseline urge to smoke, 301 daily smokers, 272 intermittent smokers, and 311 former smokers were randomly assigned to view three e-cigarette commercials with vaping visuals (the cue condition) or without vaping visuals (the no-cue condition), or to answer unrelated media use questions (the no-ad condition). Participants then answered a posttest questionnaire assessing the outcome variables of interest.
Relative to other conditions, in the cue condition, daily smokers reported greater urge to smoke a tobacco cigarette and a marginally significantly greater incidence of actually smoking a tobacco cigarette during the experiment. Former smokers in the cue condition reported lower intentions to abstain from smoking than former smokers in other conditions. No significant differences emerged among intermittent smokers across conditions.
These data suggest that visual depictions of vaping in e-cigarette commercials increase daily smokers’ urge to smoke cigarettes and may lead to more actual smoking behavior. For former smokers, these cues in advertising may undermine abstinence efforts. Intermittent smokers did not appear to be reactive to these cues. A lack of significant differences between participants in the no-cue and no-ad conditions compared to the cue condition suggests that visual depictions of e-cigarettes and vaping function as smoking cues, and cue reactivity is the mechanism through which these effects were obtained.