Teens say e-cig brands targeting them with sweet flavours

By June Shannon Policy News   |   9th Dec 2019

Minister for Health Simon Harris launches Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society e-cigarette flavours and packaging research

New research has revealed that e-cigarette companies are not telling the truth when they claim that sweet flavours such as candyfloss and bubble-gum are aimed at adults rather than children.

This is according to research carried out among Irish teenagers which was commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society and launched by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD today (Monday, 9th December).

The research, which was carried out in November by Ipsos MRBI with an indicative sample of 16 third and fourth-year schoolchildren, comprised four mini-focus groups, each lasting 40 minutes, during which school children were asked their opinions on various e-cigarette packaging and flavours and where they saw e-cigarette advertising.

The aim of the research was to determine whether, adolescents reported that they would be more likely to try e-cigarettes with fruity flavours than tobacco and menthol flavours, the extent to which the bright, cartoonish packaging of sweet-flavoured e-liquids appealed to adolescents and to capture their views on which demographic they believed was being targeted by sweet-flavoured products.

The results revealed that the students did not believe that sweet e-cigarette flavours were designed for adults only and instead such flavours were strongly associated with snacks, treats and sweets that appeal to young people.

There was also unanimous rejection by teenagers of the idea that e-cigarette companies do not design their advertising and packaging to attract children.

The Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society have called for strict restrictions on e-cigarette flavours and advertising to be included in the upcoming legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s.

“ The fact that the only purpose of flavours like strawberry milkshake, cherry crush, chocolate mint and caramel is to lure a whole new generation of children into nicotine addiction has been endorsed resoundingly by the teenagers who took part in this research,"

Tim Collins, CEO, Irish Heart Foundation

Speaking at the launch of the research, Tim Collins, CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation, said “The fact that the only purpose of flavours like strawberry milkshake, cherry crush, chocolate mint and caramel is to lure a whole new generation of children into nicotine addiction has been endorsed resoundingly by the teenagers who took part in this research.

“The usefulness of e-cigarettes is as a harm reduction tool for long-term smokers who have been unable to quit using established methods. The idea that they need chocolate or bubble gum flavoured e-cigarettes to achieve that, or branding that features cartoon characters and bright attractive packaging has been exposed as preposterous by these young people”

Averil Power, CEO of the Irish Cancer Society, said, “It is crystal clear that long-term smokers represent just a small part of the target market of the big e-cigarette brands. The bigger objective – and the bigger profits – lie in causing children and young people who have never smoked to become addicted to nicotine.

“Banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s is important, but it’s not enough to protect young people. We have to extend this ban to flavours and aggressive advertising tactics that have led in the US to what the Surgeon General described as an “epidemic” of youth e-cigarette use.”

The latest US figures – where the majority of the market is made up of teen-friendly flavoured e-cigarettes – show that 27.5 per cent of high school students are current users of e-cigarettes up from 11.7 per cent in 2017.

The most recent figures in Ireland are for 2015, before the spike experienced in the US, and show that 24.7 per cent of 15-17-year olds have tried e-cigarettes, whilst 11 per cent were current users, which is defined as use in the previous 30 days.

The Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society have previously welcomed the Minister for Health’s proposed legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children. The research published today demonstrates the urgent need to also ban e-cigarette flavouring in order to protect the health of Ireland’s children and prevent them from being introduced to tobacco through e-cigarettes.

To read more about the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society research on e-cigarette packaging and flavours please see here. 

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