Ads for e-cigarettes have some craving tobacco

 A new study finds that images of people vaping, such as found in commercials for e-cigarettes, cause former smokers to crave regular cigarettes. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A new study finds that images of people vaping, such as found in commercials for e-cigarettes, cause former smokers to crave regular cigarettes. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New research out of the University of Pennsylvania suggests that advertisements for e-cigarettes produce the urge to smoke regular tobacco products.

The study found that images of people vaping work as smoking cues, such as pictures of ashtrays or regular cigarettes, which have long been known to produce cravings for tobacco.

Former smokers had less confidence in their ability to stay away from tobacco cigarettes after watching a TV commercial for e-cigarettes. Daily smokers were more likely to smoke after seeing the ad, as part of research by Penn’s Annenberg school.

However, when both groups heard an advertisement for e-cigarettes but didn’t see it, they were not inclined to smoke.

That’s an important distinction, said Erin Maloney, director of research for the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

“This suggests that e-cigarette commercials and promotion are not problematic from a smoking-cue standpoint unless they include visual depictions of people vaping e-cigarettes that have that visual similarity to traditional cigarettes,” said Maloney.

E-cigarettes and their advertising remain largely unregulated in the U.S., and many see vaping as a safer alternative to smoking.

Igor Burstyn, associate professor at the Drexel School of Public Health, said the effect e-cigarettes have on the body is clear.

“E-cigs produce emissions about which we understand quite well, and therefore it’s possible to assess how risky they are,” said Burstyn. “The current state of evidence does not suggest they are particularly risky to people.”

The current study was funded by the Food and Drug Administration, which does not currently regulate e-cigarettes. The FDA has proposed a rule to extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover additional products, such as e-cigarettes.

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