Objective: The goal of this study was to summarise the websites of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) manufacturers in China and describe how they market their products.
Methods: From March to April 2013, we used two search keywords 'electronic cigarette' (Dian Zi Xiang Yan in Chinese) and 'manufacturer' (Sheng Chan Chang Jia in Chinese) to search e-cigarette manufacturers in China on Alibaba, an internet-based e-commerce business that covers business-to-business online marketplaces, retail and payment platforms, shopping search engine and data-centric cloud computing services. A total of 18 websites of 12 e-cigarette manufacturers in China were analysed by using a coding guide which includes 14 marketing claims.
Results: Health-related benefits were claimed most frequently (89%), followed by the claims of no secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure (78%), and utility for smoking cessation (67%). A wide variety of flavours, celebrity endorsements and e-cigarettes specifically for women were presented. None of the websites had any age restriction on access, references to government regulation or lawsuits. Instruction on how to use e-cigarettes was on 17% of the websites.
Conclusions: Better regulation of e-cigarette marketing messages on manufacturers' websites is needed in China. The frequent claims of health benefits, smoking cessation, strategies appealing to youth and women are concerning, especially targeting women. Regulators should prohibit marketing claims of health benefits, no SHS exposure and value for smoking cessation in China until health-related, quality and safety issues have been adequately addressed. To avoid e-cigarette use for initiation to nicotine addiction, messages targeting youth and women should be prohibited.
Keywords: Advertising and Promotion; Electronic nicotine delivery devices; Low/Middle income country.
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