The number and type of e-cigarettes available online has soared with around 10 new brands and more than 240 new flavours coming to market every month in the last two years.
A study published in a special supplement of the journal Tobacco Control is one of nine pieces of research on e-cigarettes to come out of the State and Community Tobacco Control Research (SCTC) Initiative funded by the US National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
The researchers base their findings on a comprehensive trawl of online English language websites marketing e-cigarettes between May to August 2012 and December 2013 to January 2014.
They looked at brands (older and newer); models (‘cigalikes’, which resemble conventional cigarettes); eGos, which are larger and usually have a removable tank containing liquid nicotine; and mods, which are larger still and endlessly customisable, flavours; nicotine strengths; ingredients; and product claims.
The first search identified 288 unique brands, 37 of which had disappeared by the time of the second search, which identified a further 215 new brands.
By January 2014, there were 466 different brands, each with its own website, and 7,764 unique flavours.
Nearly all brands offered tobacco and menthol flavours. The next most popular category of flavour was fruit, followed by dessert/candy, alcohol/drinks, snacks/meals.
In the 17 months between the two searches, there was a net increase of 10.5 brands and 242 new flavours each month.
A comparison of the older and newer brands showed that older brands were more likely to push their ‘cigalike’ qualities (just under 90% of older brands compared with just over half of newer ones).
Older brands were also significantly more likely to claim that they were healthier and cheaper than conventional cigarettes; that they offered a good substitute in areas were smoking is banned; and that they were effective smoking cessation aids.
Newer brands were more likely to focus on choice and versatility. They offered more flavours per brand than their older makes (49 compared with 32), and they were less likely to emphasise ‘cigalike’ qualities.
Around one in 10 older and newer brands made direct claims about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit.
The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, has recently categorised e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, so sales to minors will be banned. But this ban does not cover the internet, where up to half of the total quantity of e-cigarettes sold are purchased, the authors point out.
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