Ban E-Cigarette Ads Everywhere

The vape gateway.

Photographer: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

It may come as a disappointment to Europeans who enjoy watching the Marlboro man ride on the open plain (update: He now appears to be a woman, and uses a helicopter), but it’s terrific news for Europe’s health: Within a few weeks, ads for electronic cigarettes will go dark on European TV, radio and websites, and will disappear from most print publications.

Europe’s highest court has approved new regulations on such ads -- in contrast with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which declined to impose the same ban Thursday even as it declared its authority to regulate vaping products. Cigarette ads have been banned on U.S. TV and radio since the Nixon administration, but e-cigarette ads are allowed everywhere -- and are often aimed at teenagers. 

This helps explain why more and more American adolescents are taking up e-cigarettes. In the past four years, the number has risen more than 900 percent to 3 million, including about one in six high school students.

Even those experts who believe (on incomplete evidence) that e-cigarettes may have the potential to help tobacco users quit see the danger in allowing vapes to be promoted to young people and other nonsmokers. While e-cigarettes don’t deliver the smoke and tar that traditional cigarettes do, their vapor contains noxious substances such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, heavy metals -- and, of course, nicotine, which impairs brain development and causes addiction, ultimately encouraging new users to switch to the combustible kind.

QuickTake Smoking, E-Updated

Various studies in the U.S. have found an association between teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes and ordinary ones. One found that kids who tried e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes within the next year. That e-cigarettes come in thousands of flavors, from cherry crush to pomegranate, only increases their appeal to kids.

The FDA’s action at least bans the sale of vaping products to minors, though most states have already done that, and e-cigarettes are readily available to teens online. The agency is also setting in motion a years-long process to evaluate the ingredients in the various e-cigarette brands.

California, for its part, just banned the sale of e-cigarettes (and all tobacco products) to anyone younger than 21, as well as vaping in restaurants, theaters and bars. These are welcome changes. But teenage vaping can be expected to rise until e-cigarette advertising, like that for tobacco, is strictly limited.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.