The shift away from smoking in the United States has been a hard-fought battle. Think of a habit that once had its grip on the American public, and now has been beaten back away from public areas, indoors, and nearly every communal gathering. What used to be the "cool" thing to do is the "gross" thing to do. How amazing is a shift in norms?
But then came e-cigs and smokeless tobacco.
Smokeless tobacco is nothing new, but with smokers losing the war on smoking and being able to still hang out with friends, many switched to chewing tobacco and dipping. In the past five years, we've seen more Skoal and other dipping brands' ads than the previous ten.
E-cigs are the products that have everyone, even scientists, guessing. According to their product classification, e-cigs are not considered to be under the strict regulations that cigarettes are, yet they have the most important ingredient — nicotine. Still, e-cigs are allowed to be advertised in all the venues that cigarettes once heralded.
At least for now. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement that suggested e-cigs should fall under the same regulations as cigarettes, and tried to force brands to cease advertising. The noble organization fears that the advertising could "bait" young children and non-smokers into picking up the habit.
Issues like this really make us wonder about the intellect of the American consumer. Are there consumers out there who see that smoking has benefits that beat its weighty costs? Are the switching costs from non-smoking to smoking so low, not to mention social-proof, that these latent audiences are waiting to be activated by the right advertisement?
Don't get us wrong; we absolutely chide the consumer more often than not. We believe that groups are dumb, but that individual consumers have a shot at getting most things right.
If we truly live in a free enterprise system with a monopolistically competitive environment, then we should allow the markets to decide, and ultimately e-cigs should fail. With or without the aid of advertising.
We shall see.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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