E-cigarette marketing in London

Point-of-sale display in London store that invites customers to sample e-cigarettes. Photos by Kurt Ribisl

Point-of-sale display in London store that invites customers to sample e-cigarettes. Photos by Kurt Ribisl

Project Team Funding  |  Collaborators  |  In The News

E-cigarette marketing in London

GGG_uk_flagGillings faculty collaborated with faculty at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and the University of Pennsylvania on a project that demonstrated the widespread availability and marking of e-cigarettes in London stores. The project raises the question of whether e-cigarette marketing and use are renormalizing smoking, especially among youth and non-smokers and in more deprived neighborhoods.

Cigarette sales in the U.S. and the U.K. have gone down in recent years, while sale and use of electronic cigarettes have increased greatly.  E-cigarettes heat nicotine and other chemicals to form a vapor that is inhaled.  They are marketed as a way to help smokers reduce or quit smoking or satisfy their urge to smoke in places where smoking is prohibited.  However, the World Health Organization, CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and Food and Drug Administration all have concerns that e-cigarettes may increase addiction to nicotine, particularly in children, and have questioned their safety and effectiveness in smoking cessation. Read More

Although e-cigarettes have been on the market for some time, there is scant regulation of their manufacturing, marketing and quality control.  Little is known about how e-cigarette availability and point-of-sale marketing impact non-users or cue the craving to smoke among former smokers and those attempting to quit.

The U.K. has successfully banned point-of-sale tobacco advertising in stores, but does not yet regulate similar marketing of e-cigarettes.  In a multi-country collaborative project, researchers from Gillings and Cambridge carried out audits of 128 stores in London to describe the availability and promotion of e-cigarettes.  They also wanted to see whether e-cigarettes were more heavily promoted in deprived neighborhoods, where smoking rates are higher than in more affluent areas.

They found that over half of the stores had e-cigarettes available, and many had movable displays that invited customers to try the product.  Since the tobacco industry is increasing investment in e-cigarettes, their promotion and availability is expected to increase over time.  As they are marketed as more cost-effective than conventional cigarettes, they may be particularly attractive to smokers in deprived neighborhoods.  Given the lack of research evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes and their effect on smoking initiation, their increasing popularity is of concern.

The study is part of a comprehensive set of studies on e-cigarette, tobacco and alcohol marketing strategies, including a focus on the concentration of tobacco and e-cigarette retailers in poor areas. 

Project Team

  • Kurt Ribisl (Principal Investigator)
  • Theresa Marteau, University of Cambridge (Principal Investigator)
  • Allison Myers
  • Robert Hsu, College of Arts & Sciences & The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania


Sponsored by: Independently funded through a joint grant from the University of Cambridge, England and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health


  • Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

In The News

An observational study of retail availability and in-store marketing of e-cigarettes in London: potential to undermine recent tobacco control gains?