Do Ecig Ads Increase the Urge to Smoke Conventional Cigarettes?

A recent study on ecig ads conducted by the University of Pennsylvania has stirred up another controversy about the potential harm of ecig ads. The study claims smokers experience the urge to smoke conventional cigarettes after viewing vaping commercials. If this is the case, ecig ads would work against the usefulness of vaping as an alternative to smoking. However, a closer look at the study will show that the conclusions drawn from it may be far from unbiased.

A Summary of the Study

The study had a total of 884 respondents consisting of the following groups: 301 individuals who smoked daily, 272 individuals who smoked intermittently, and 311 individuals who had quit smoking. The subjects were asked to view three ecig commercials; some of these ads showed vaping, while others did not.

According to the researchers, these results suggest that watching vaping ads can lead to smoking and weaken the resolve of former smokers to abstain from the habit. Quite predictably, media, including TIME, were quick to pick up this conclusion without taking a second look at the study for significant nuances.

Taking a Closer Look

From the study conducted, this implication has been drawn: Because vaping looks like smoking, ads showing e-cigarettes increases the desire to smoke. However, a more thorough examination of the study shows the actual results of the study cannot be interpreted as simplistically.

The respondents fell under two groups: those who would view the ads, and those who would belong to a control group. Among those who viewed the commercials, some viewed ads without vaping cues or visuals and others viewed ads without any cues. Using a five-point scale, the respondents’ urge to smoke was measured before and after viewing the ads or the control procedure.

Daily smokers actually registered a post-study decrease in the urge to smoke.

  • Baseline (before the process) scores measuring urge to smoke in daily smokers were recorded at 3.99 for those who would see ads with cues; after exposure, they registered their urge to smoke at 3.63, showing a .36 decrease.
  • Daily smokers who would see ads without vaping cues registered their pretest urge to smoke at 3.83 and their posttest urge at 3.14, showing a .69 decrease.
  • Daily smokers who would go through the study without seeing ads measured a pretest urge of 3.84 and a posttest score of 3.25, showing a .59 decrease.

To sum up, the greatest decrease in the urge to smoke is actually seen in the daily smokers who saw ads without vaping cues (.69), next by those who did not see ads at all (.59), then by the daily smokers who, after being exposed to the ads, still showed a .36 decrease in their urge to smoke.

Intermittent Smokers also showed a decreased urge to smoke after the study.

  • Intermittent smokers exposed to ads with cues measured a pretest urge scored at 3.30 and a posttest score of 2.79, showing a .59 decrease.
  • Intermittent smokers exposed to ads without cues registered a pretest urge measured at 3.23 and a posttest score of 2.65, showing a .58 decrease.
  • Intermittent smokers who saw no ads measured the pretest urge to smoke at 3.22 and the posttest at .59.

As a whole, all the intermittent smokers in the study showed a posttest decrease in their urge to smoke.

Former smokers also registered a decreased urge to smoke.

  • Former smokers who saw the ecig ads with cues registered their pretest urge at 1.86, and a posttest urge of 1.42, showing a .44 difference.
  • Former smokers who saw ads without the cues registered their pretest urge at 1.69 and their posttest at 1.34, showing a .35 difference.
  • Former smokers who went through the study without seeing ads measured their pretest urge to smoke at 1.76 and their posttest urge at 1.32, sowing a .44 decrease.

Like the daily smokers and the intermittent smokers, the former smokers also showed a posttest decrease in the urge to smoke.

What the Numbers Really Say

The numbers generated by the study do not in any way say that vaping ads encourage cigarette smoking. The results actually show the opposite – even exposure to ads with vaping cues resulted in a decrease in the urge to smoke throughout the groups in the study (.36 for daily smokers, .59 for intermittent smokers, and .44 former smokers). The numbers merely show that the smallest decrease in the urge to smoke is evidenced by daily smokers, who still registered a decrease.

The statements against e-cig ads are a big leap from what the numbers actually say. There is a big gap between the results of the study and conclusions published by media; and this gap is a big disservice to the smokers, the vapers, and the general public.