Background: Prior to the final deeming rule, federal law in the USA prohibited electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) from being marketed as smoking cessation products; for other therapeutic purposes and in ways that conveyed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval/endorsement. After August 2016, additional federal prohibitions were added including false/misleading and unauthorised modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) claims. No systematic investigation of e-cigarette health claims has been conducted in the retail environment. We sought to document and characterise claims made in vape shops.
Methods: Between November 2015 and February 2016, before final deeming rule implementation, two trained data collectors conducted unannounced observational assessments of 46 vape shops in North Carolina. Data collectors used wearable imaging technology to document health claims about e-cigarettes. Photos were coded for five claim types: (1) cessation device; (2) drug effect/device; (3) FDA-approved/endorsed; (4) false/misleading and (5) MRTP. Photos were double coded; differences between coders were adjudicated and reviewed by an expert panel.
Results: At least one health claim was displayed in 41.3% (n=19) of retailers, ranging from 0 to 27 claims per retailer. All claim types were found. Cessation device claims were the most prevalent (62.2%, n=84), followed by MRTP (27.4%, n=37), drug effect/device (8.1%, n=11), false/misleading (1.5%, n=2), and FDA approved/endorsed (0.7%, n=1). Retail chains made the majority of claims compared with independent shops (88.9% vs 11.1%).
Conclusions: Many vape shops displayed e-cigarette health claims, which are all now FDA prohibited. These claims could mislead consumers and influence behaviour. Findings highlight the need for retailer education, continued surveillance, enforcement specific to advertising and research on consumer perceptions of claims.
Keywords: advertising and promotion; electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS); surveillance and monitoring.
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