We are living in the golden age of vape advertising, but for how long?

High-profile influencers selling harmful products in the under-regulated wild west of online advertising casts doubt on the progress of advertising ethics.

February 6, 2018

Over the past decade, vaping has been labeled as a “healthier alternative” to smoking cigarettes. And in the face of research that suggests otherwise, vape companies have adopted marketing strategies reminiscent of  big cigarette companies of the ’60s.

E-cig companies — and a e-cig “influencers” — are taking advantage of lax online ad regulations by inserting sneaky native ads that fly under the radar on platforms like YouTube.

DonnySmokes is the new Marlboro Man

Yesterday, Vice published an article about a lanky 21-year-old who, under the YouTube moniker “DonnySmokes,” posts reviews of e-cigs and reels in 3m monthly views from 120k subscribers.

E-cig brands pay DonnySmokes a substantial flat fee for a review in the hopes of reaching their target audience.

This kind of subversive marketing is part of a much wider net cast by the vaping industry: in 2014, e-cig companies spent $115m on ads, and by 2014, about of teens in the US had seen one.

A new frontier

Back in the ’60s, brands like Marlboro and Camel used TV ads and the “cool factor” to hook young people on cigarettes. But by 1971, cig ads were banned on television — and today, these companies operate under strict marketing regulations.

In the (relatively) new frontier of the internet, e-cig companies are taking similar liberties, with less restrictions.

Couched in topics like “how to hide your JUUL from your parents,” DonnySmokes’ ads are often not marked as sponsored, and are aimed at a very young crowd who might have trouble distinguishing between a native ad and a genuine review.

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