If e-cigarette users were asked what attracts them to the electronic device, a lot of them would answer in a manner similar to the well known actress, Katherine Heigl. During the course of an interview she told David Letterman that when using an electronic cigarette you exhale water vapour which does not harm you nor does it harm those around you. While these words may be acceptable coming from a star on a TV show, e-cigarette companies are still barred from making any claims as to their products being a healthier option. The new ad campaign by NJoy, which is the number two electronic cigarette brand, is being questioned by industry experts for exactly this reason.
The U.S. ad campaign with a budget of $30 million features two inseparable buddies growing up together, playing a prank at school, shifting into a shared apartment, being involved in a brawl in a bar and delivering a speech at a wedding, at which point a voice from the background states that friends do not allow their friends to smoke, going on to cajole them to give their friends NJoy King which they claim to be the only e-cigarettes which is worth switching to. The ad campaign which is aired on radio and TV, also targets potential customers through the digital and print media and has an additional $50 million budget for promoting the product overseas.
Though the Njoy product does not directly claim to be a healthier option nor does it profess to aid in people’s efforts to quit smoking, it very nearly crosses this very fine dividing line.
Craig Weiss, Njoy’s Chief Executive Officer, who previously was a patent lawyer and who does not vape or smoke, dismisses the allegation that the ad is designed to surreptitiously convey a health-related message. He states that the ad could in no way be interpreted to be a health claim. In an interview he points out that a health claim has to be a direct assertion that a person’s health can be improved by using the product. He reiterates that their campaign does not discuss health at all.
As regards the advice for friends to vape rather than smoke, Weiss says that vaping is relatively cheaper and does not have an odour. It is just another way of keeping friends from smelling bad while saving money in the process.
Advocates of e-cigarettes claim that millions of smokers’ lives can be saved if they switch to the device. The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), on the other hand, is of the opinion that more research is required to ascertain the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes. The FDA, in 2010, warned five distributors of electronic cigarettes to desist from claiming that e-cigs aided in smoking-cessation, until they had obtained its approval.
E-cigarettes are obviously a safer alternative to tobacco which is known to claim millions of victims annually. Weiss opines that e-cigarette manufacturers need not make any claims as to health benefits. They would do well to just make people comfortable with the idea that they are not quitting smoking but are switching to something that is not so bad in public perception. E-cigarettes can be promoted as a viable substitute for cigarettes.
The e-cigarette industry is presently not subject to strict regulation as is the case with other health products which are regulated as drugs and medicinal devices. For this reason NJoy is not promoted as a smoking cessation therapy like Nicoderm and Nicorette. Besides, as of today, none of the e-cigarettes has the FDA’s approval as a recognised line of treatment.
Weiss states that their goal is to take the number one spot as far as producing a satisfying product is concerned and this will be the main driver of sales and success. According to him the product is satisfying when the smoker prefers the electronic device or at least cannot tell the difference from the traditional product. Njoy seeks to give the user pleasure and does not promote health benefits.
Electronic cigarettes are not included within the ambit of tobacco products and are able to avoid the FDA rules for tobacco promotion. The FDA is pursuing a change in the rules to classify the electronic device as tobacco products. Big names in the e-cigarette niche like Blu (LO), who, through their slogan, exhort consumers to take their freedom back, welcome the move and pledge their support saying that it will make the marketing efforts more responsible.
Weiss also bats for reasonable regulation, more so because regulation in some form or the other seems to be unavoidable.