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Marketing of electronic cigarettes: Targeting young people

E-cigarettes in focus at the 2014 Tobacco Control Conference at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)

No. 61 | 03/12/2014 | by MPL/Sel

E-cigarettes are no longer a marginal phenomenon in Germany. They are being sold and advertised in this country on the internet, at gas stations and kiosks, and in supermarkets, like cigarettes made of tobacco. A new publication from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) now documents the marketing of e-cigarettes on the internet, on TV, at sports events, fairs and sales locations. The publication reports that e-cigarette advertising targets not only adults but also youth. The topic will be a focus when about 250 experts and policy-makers from ten countries meet for the 12th Conference on Tobacco Control at the German Cancer Research Center on December 3-4, 2014.


Pictures of fruit, colorful packages and “fantastic flavors” on e-cigarette packaging suggest a harmless product. Such designs resemble those used in the marketing of candy, and advertising slogans such as “shisha to go” for e-cigarettes with a special mouthpiece suggest that consumers can use them easily on the go. “Brightly colored and rhinestone-covered devices and flavors such as ‘tutti frutti’ or ‘chocolate’ seduce kids and teens to try out e-cigarettes,” says Dr. Martina Pötschke-Langer, head of DKFZ’s Cancer Prevention Unit and editor of the current publication. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes advertise their products with pictures showing attractive young women and men in situations such as parties, at bars, or on adventures that particularly appeal to young people. Manufacturers also make direct contact with potential new consumers at fairs, music festivals, and other events that are particularly popular among youth. On the internet young people are invited to shoot their own videos showing how they use electronic cigarettes and to share them online, an attempt to build a sense of community among users.

In Germany, the advertising of e-cigarettes has not yet been subjected to regulation. By spring 2016 at the latest, when the EU Guideline on Tobacco Products will have been transferred into German law, the practices will be restricted in the same way as tobacco products. But even then it will still be possible to advertise e-cigarettes (like tobacco products) on large posters, at festivals and at other places where they are marketed – which will provide ample opportunities to lure young first consumers into their first use of a product whose effects on health are a subject of concern.

“For public health, e-cigarettes present a greater potential for harm than for benefits, because they endanger previous achievements in tobacco prevention among youth,” says Pötschke-Langer. Therefore, the DKFZ calls for strict regulation of e-cigarettes. Appropriate measures would include, for example, bans on selling e-cigarettes to youth and a comprehensive ban on the advertising of electronic cigarettes and tobacco products alike.

The publication is available at:

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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