Introduction: Brick-and-mortar vape shops have increased in recent years, but there is limited research on the types of marketing claims consumers are exposed to on their websites - a dominant channel for marketing electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). We investigated the websites of vape shop retailers in the Greater Los Angeles Area to describe their ENDS marketing claims.
Methods: Data collection occurred between 25 March and 20 June 2020. Of the 104 brick-and-mortar vape shops identified, 37 were found to have active websites. Rules were established to analyze website content. ENDS Marketing Claims were coded as the presence or absence of: 1) a direct claim of ENDS as a quitting aid; 2) a disclaimer that ENDS are not approved as smoking cessation devices (i.e. ENDS products are not FDA-approved for smoking cessation); 3) a direct claim of ENDS as healthier/safer than combustible cigarettes; and 4) direct claims regarding social benefits, including that ENDS are less expensive, can be used in more places, are cleaner or less messy/smelly, and are more socially accepted than combustible cigarettes.
Results: Smoking cessation-related benefits were claimed most frequently (43%), followed by health-related claims (30%), and disclaimers that ENDS are not approved as smoking cessation devices (24%). More than half (56.4%) of websites had an age restriction, requiring the user to click on a box to state that they were aged ≥21 years to view the site. None required proof or outside verification of age.
Conclusions: Brick-and-mortar vape shops in the Greater Los Angeles Area are marketing ENDS on their websites as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. Although half of the websites had an age gate popup that consumers see when they enter the website, action is needed to better enforce age restriction on access to vape shop websites. Utility for smoking cessation was claimed most frequently, followed by the claims of healthier alternatives to smoking cigarettes, and disclaimers that ENDS are not approved as smoking cessation devices. We discuss implications for tobacco regulatory policy.
Keywords: ENDS; marketing claims; vape shops; websites.
© Pavy M. et al.