Jun 14, 2019 02:53 PM EDT
In a new USC review published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, similar to the 1980s and 90s infamous "Joe Camel" advertisement for cigarettes, the use of cartoon characters in ads for e-cigarettes and e-liquids may be attracting young people to the nicotine-delivery products.
The study discovered that recognition of the cartoon images among those who have never used e-cigarettes was positively connected with expectations that the products would taste good and enhance socializing.
Assistance professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the co-author of the study, Jon-Patrick Allem, said that among young adults who had never used e-cigarettes, they found a significant effect of cartoon-based marketing on their likelihood of using the products in the future. Cartoons appear to be quite useful at increased susceptibility to use e-cigarettes among individuals who aren't using them to begin.
The authors of the study examined two different sets of young adults who completed online surveys assessing the use of an e-cigarette. In the first study, 778 participants with an average age of 24-years looked at several e-liquid package images with and without cartoons and were asked whether they recognized the products. The second survey had 522 participants with an average age of 30 looked at several e-liquid images with and without cartoons and rated the appeal of the products. Among self-reported "never users" of the products, people who recognized the comics were more likely to be susceptible to future use.
In the words of the assistant professor of research at the Keck School and also the co-leader of the study, Matt Kirkpatrick, cartoons are being used to market the products in two distinct ways, which are as logos by e-cigarette and e-liquid companies and in promotional materials by vendors that sell the products online, including through Instagram and Twitter, and offline. Kirkpatrick added that cartoon imagery used by some companies is part of the constellation of variables that make people susceptible to future use of e-cigarettes.
Researchers at the USC noted that their research builds on the work by analyzing cartoon-based marketing for emerging tobacco products among an at-risk population, which are young adults.
Both Allem and Kirkpatrick, in their past review, discovered e-cigarette vendors were using Pokemon Go, a cartoon-based augmented reality game, to sell their products on Twitter. In the previous analysis of Instagram images posted by e-liquid manufacturers and vendors, they discovered that 21 percent of posts contained a cartoon.
Allem said that the data in this most recent study suggest a need for policies to extend restrictions on cartoon-based marketing of cigarettes to include marketing for e-cigarettes.
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