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.

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.

Get the 5-minute roundup you’ll actually read in your inbox​

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less​

RECENT POSTS

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

[email-submission-form button-text="Join Free" include-trends-opt-in="true" success-url="https://thehustle.co/new-thank-you-v2/" default-source="thehustleco" default-medium="home-exit-popup" default-campaign="home-page" form-id="exit-popup-general" optinmonster-conversion="true"]
<script type="text/javascript"> var onloadCallback = function() { grecaptcha.render('verify-your-humanity', { 'sitekey' : '6LdddrcZAAAAALyttpvOqiwQGwq5BNhgDz4tMQGE' }); }; function getCookieValue(a) { var b = document.cookie.match('(^|[^;]+)\\s*' + a + '\\s*=\\s*([^;]+)'); return b ? atob(decodeURIComponent(b.pop())) : ''; } function getCookie(name) { var cookieArr = document.cookie.split(";"); for(var i = 0; i < cookieArr.length; i++) { var cookiePair = cookieArr[i].split("="); if(name == cookiePair[0].trim()) { return decodeURIComponent(cookiePair[1]); } } return null; } function setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, searchParams, className, utmName, cookieName, defaultValue) { var el = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName(className)[0]; var existingVal = el.getAttribute('value'); if (utmName == 'ref') { var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName) || getCookie(cookieName); } else { var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName) || getCookieValue(cookieName); } if ((existingVal == null || existingVal == '' || existingVal == defaultValue) && (newVal != null && newVal != '')) { el.setAttribute('value', newVal); } } function setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm( wrappingDiv, searchParams, className, utmName, defaultValue ) { var el = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName(className)[0]; if (el != null) { var existingVal = el.getAttribute("value"); var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName); if (newVal != null && newVal != "") { el.setAttribute("value", newVal); } } } function initForm() { var wrappingDivs = document.getElementsByClassName('email-submission'); Array.prototype.forEach.call(wrappingDivs,wrappingDiv => { var sp = new URLSearchParams(window.location.search); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-source', 'utm_source', 'funnel_source', 'thehustleco'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-campaign', 'utm_campaign', 'funnel_campaign', 'home-page'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-medium', 'utm_medium', 'funnel_medium', 'home-exit-popup'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-referral', 'ref', 'funnel_referral', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-a', 'a', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-c', 'c', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-o', 'o', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-oc', 'oc', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-e', 'e', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-f', 'f', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-r', 'r', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-t', 't', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s1', 's1', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s2', 's2', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s3', 's3', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s4', 's4', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s5', 's5', ''); var error_message = getCookieValue('validate-email-message'); if (error_message && error_message.trim() != '') { var error = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName('funnel-error')[0]; var prev_email = getCookieValue('funnel_email'); error_message = prev_email + " is not valid. Please try again"; error.innerHTML = error_message; error.style = ''; } }); if (false) { initCaptchaFormV2(); } } function initCaptchaFormV2() { var v3RecaptchaResponseEl = document.getElementById('recaptcha-response-v3'); v3RecaptchaResponseEl.parentNode.removeChild(v3RecaptchaResponseEl); var wrappingDiv = document.getElementById('email-submission'); var subForm = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName('email-submission')[0]; var captchaVersion = document.createElement('input'); captchaVersion.class = 'g-recaptcha hidden-input'; captchaVersion.type = 'hidden'; captchaVersion.name = 'g-recaptcha-response-v2'; captchaVersion.value = 'true'; subForm.appendChild(captchaVersion); var captchaEl = document.createElement('div'); captchaEl.id = 'verify-your-humanity'; subForm.prepend(captchaEl); var captchaApiScriptEl = document.createElement('script'); captchaApiScriptEl.src = 'https://www.recaptcha.net/recaptcha/api.js?onload=onloadCallback&render=explicit'; captchaApiScriptEl.async = true; captchaApiScriptEl.defer = true; document.head.appendChild(captchaApiScriptEl); } window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', (event) => { initForm(); }); if(typeof hp_interval == 'undefined') { var hp_interval = 0; var hp_ts = 0; var hp_try = 0; jQuery(document).ready(function ($) { hp_interval = setInterval(function(){ $('input.hp_ts').val(hp_ts); hp_ts += 1; if(hp_ts >= 180) { clearInterval(hp_interval); } },1000); $('.email-submission:not(.prevent-default)').submit(function (e) { var form = $(this); if(hp_ts < 3 && hp_try < 1) { e.preventDefault(); if (form.find('.email-form-submit-message').length < 1) { form.find('.email-form-wrap').after('<p class="email-form-submit-message" style="padding: 0em 1.5em;">Too fast! Are you a human? Try again please.</p>'); } hp_try += 1; hp_ts = 0; $('input.hp_try').val(hp_try); } }); }); } </script> <div class="email-signup" id=email-submission> <div class="funnel-error" style="display:none;"></div> <form class="email-submission " id="exit-popup-general" action="https://cms.thehustle.co/api/v1/contacts/wordpress_create" method="post" autocomplete="email"> <div class="email-form-wrap"> <input class="funnel-source hidden-input" type="hidden" name="source" value="daily"> <input class="funnel-campaign hidden-input" type="hidden" name="campaign" value="2/6 - Samsung"> <input class="funnel-medium hidden-input" type="hidden" name="medium" value="email"> <input class="funnel-form-id hidden-input" type="hidden" name="form-id" value="exit-popup-general"> <input class="funnel-referral hidden-input" type="hidden" name="referral_code"> <input class="funnel-fail-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="fail_url" value=""> <input class="funnel-ip-country-wordpress hidden-input" type="hidden" name="ip_country_wordpress" value="US"> <input class="funnel-submission-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="submission_url" value="https://thehustle.co/vape-advertising-unregulated/?utm_campaign=2%2F6+-+Samsung&utm_content=vape-advertising-unregulated&utm_medium=email&utm_source=daily"> <input class="funnel-a hidden-input" type="hidden" name="a" value=""> <input class="funnel-c hidden-input" type="hidden" name="c" value=""> <input class="funnel-o hidden-input" type="hidden" name="o" value=""> <input class="funnel-oc hidden-input" type="hidden" name="oc" value=""> <input class="funnel-e hidden-input" type="hidden" name="e" value=""> <input class="funnel-f hidden-input" type="hidden" name="f" value=""> <input class="funnel-r hidden-input" type="hidden" name="r" value=""> <input class="funnel-t hidden-input" type="hidden" name="t" value=""> <input class="funnel-s1 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s1" value=""> <input class="funnel-s2 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s2" value=""> <input class="funnel-s3 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s3" value=""> <input class="funnel-s4 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s4" value=""> <input class="funnel-s5 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s5" value=""> <input class="funnel-success-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="success_url" value="https://thehustle.co/new-thank-you-v2/"> <input id="recaptcha-response-v3" class="g-recaptcha hidden-input" type="hidden" name="g-recaptcha-response" value=""> <div class="signup-icon" style="display:none;"> <svg width="24" viewBox="0 0 24 24" fill="none" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"><path d="M22 6c0-1.1-.9-2-2-2H4c-1.1 0-2 .9-2 2v12c0 1.1.9 2 2 2h16c1.1 0 2-.9 2-2V6Zm-2 0-8 5-8-5h16Zm0 12H4V8l8 5 8-5v10Z" fill="#848B92"></path></svg> </div> <input type="hidden" name="hp_ts" class="hp_ts" value="0"> <input type="hidden" name="hp_try" class="hp_try" value="0"> <input type="text" name="first_name" placeholder="Enter your name" value=""> <input class="signup-email" type="email" name="email" placeholder="Your email address" required autocomplete="email"> <input class="email-submit om-trigger-conversion" type="submit" value="Join Free"> </div> <div class="validate-mistake-emails-message" style="display:none;"></div> <div class="form-options" style="display:none"> <div class="form-options-wrap"> <div class="trends-opt-in"> <input id="trends_opt_in_email_submission" class="trends-opt-in-checkbox" type="checkbox" name="trends_opt_in"> <label for="trends_opt_in_email_submission" id="trends_opt_in_label" class="trends-opt-in-text">Yes, I’d like to receive additional marketing emails on hot business opportunities from Trends, by the Hustle.</label> </div> <div class="privacy-text"> <p>We're committed to your privacy. The Hustle uses the information you provide to contact you about our relevant content and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information, check out our <a href="https://thehustle.co/privacy">Privacy Policy</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div submit-success> <template type="amp-mustache"> <p class="c-message c-message--success">Thank you for subscribing.</p> </template> </div> <div submit-error> <template type="amp-mustache"> <p class="c-message c-message--failed">Your submission failed. Please try again!</p> </template> </div> </form> </div>