By Guest Author 09/08/2020

Dr Sommer Kapitan, Auckland University of Technology, and Dr Patrick van Esch, Auckland University of Technology

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill will limit vape sales at dairies and service stations to only three flavours, and make vaping illegal in smokefree areas.

Vaping laws will be more aligned with tobacco laws, especially in regards to advertising and promotion. The Bill passed Parliament and is awaiting Royal Assent.

But does the proposed Bill go far enough to curb vape marketing efforts?

The Bill mandates that by 2022, health warnings be placed on vaping promotional material and that advertising regulations do not apply to “the display, in accordance with any regulations, of vaping products within any retail premises or on any Internet site.” That means while cigarettes are locked away and out-of-sight behind checkout counters, vapes will still be visible and colourfully branded behind every shop counter that sells them.

The marketing of vaping in New Zealand, in part, reflects how vape manufacturers target non-smokers by positioning vaping as a trendy lifestyle choice. Nielsen noted a 190% increase in marketing and advertising efforts in the first six months of 2019 alone. This has led to a surge in vaping among smokers and non-smokers alike.

Are we too late to change the trend of vaping by non-smokers who might embrace vaping as part of a lifestyle choice?

In a new study here at AUT, we explore the impact of vape advertising and marketing on consumers. We find that consumers of all ages and any level of nicotine-device use (1) have more positive attitudes towards vapes vs. cigarettes, (2) see vapes as more trendy than cigarettes and (3) are more willing to buy vape products than cigarettes.

In particular, a key finding emerged for non-smokers: When vapes in an advertisement were pictured with (as opposed to without) vape clouds, non-smokers’ stated willingness to buy increased.

In contrast, current smokers and vapers did not exhibit increased preferences or purchase intentions when vape clouds were included in advertising. That’s because smokers and vapers are already sold on their nicotine-delivery devices. It is clear that when targeting non-smokers in particular, promoting vapes with images of vape clouds will drive increased sales of vapes. These marketing tactics are increasingly visible, as epitomised by vaping brand Vype’s social media campaign featuring large vape clouds exhaled all over Instagram by New Zealand social influencers.

In short:  The bigger the vape cloud, the more likely non-smokers are to say they’d buy a vape product. The marketing has already worked— vape clouds are perceived as cool and trendy.

Our study also shows that consumers consider vapes as both less disgusting and associated with a lower risk from side effects than cigarettes and cigarette smoke. This makes consumers overall, whether smokers or non-smokers, more willing to consider purchasing vapes and vape products.

Our research highlights the impact of unregulated advertising and marketing efforts by vaping manufacturers on consumers.

The 72-page Bill that passed Parliament last week allows Government-approved speciality vape shops to sell any flavour and allows dairies and convenience stores to splash vape advertising and promotional material on their premises. Shosha – the largest vaping retailer in NZ – says the passing of the new vaping law will allow the company to confirm a plan to open 15 stores nationwide within the next three months. This keeps vaping squarely within the consumers’ line of sight. This further gives vape marketers a clear advantage over cigarette brands in market share. From a marketing and consumer psychology standpoint, this Bill might not go far enough to curb the familiarity, visibility and appeal of the vape lifestyle and puts at risk our nation’s youth and non-smokers.

From the perspective of consumer behaviour researchers, the enhanced visibility and prevalence of vaping will not be fully curbed under this Bill.

Dr Sommer Kapitan, Senior Lecturer of Marketing, Auckland University of Technology; Dr Patrick van Esch, Senior Lecture of Marketing, Auckland University of Technology