Vaping companies took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic by offering products that were in short supply, a new study suggests.
Researchers found ads in which customers could get a free roll of toilet paper, face masks or a bottle of hand sanitizer with a purchase of e-cigarettes or vape liquids.
Others companies urged the public to follow the advice of health experts by staying home, and using a vape while they were at it.
Some even created healthcare-themed promotions, encouraging consumers to disinfect their e-cigarettes and to not share them with friends or family, the team, from Stanford University, in California, found.
‘While we thought we’d seen it all, we never imagined that we’d see tobacco companies exploiting a global pandemic for marketing purposes,’ co-author Dr Robert Jackler, an otologist-neurotologist at Stanford, told CNN exclusively.
‘What really surprised us was how many different ways they did it, and how many companies and brands engaged in the practice.’
For the study, published the journal Tobacco Control, the team looked at ads from 21 e-cigarette brands and 41 online vaping stores.
Researchers collected more than 300 e-cigarette promotional images related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were several different methods that companies and stores used to target customers, and the first was offering gifts of essential supplies.
As toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks became scarce, many began offering them as free gifts with a eligible purchase.
‘Free hand sanitiser with every order,’ reads an advertisement from Podsalt, a UK-based vaping company.
SCS Vape, a store based in Victoria, Texas, put out a promotion for toilet paper which read: ‘Free roll with $10 purchase (while supplies last).’
In the case of Vintage Vapor, an online vape shop, it offered essential supplies such masks and sanitizer for purchase on its website.
Researchers says the hand sanitizer from different companies was often distributed in the same bottles flavored e-liquid were packaged.
‘They offer their hand sanitizer in the same little bottle,’ Jackler told CNN.
‘You can very easily accidentally think that that’s for use in vaping. You pour 70 percent alcohol in the vaporizer, breathe it in, can do some serious harm to your lungs.’
British American Tobacco started a social media campaign for its heated tobacco product Glo, selling themed face masks with the message #todayiwill followed by ‘stay home.’
In other posst on Instagram, BAT posted #todayiwill followed by ‘go out’ featuring an image of a Glo store.
Another way to attract customers was by offering discounts, which were themed around the pandemic.
For example, Loon e-cigarettes, based out of Minnesota, offered 20 percent off an entire purchase if one used the promotional code ‘Staysafe’
Another company, California-based BLVK Unicorn offered 30 percent of purchases to all ‘doctors, nurses and medical staff’ for ‘making sacrifices every day to maintain normalcy.’
Companies also tried to encourage people to ‘clean and disinfect’ their vapes and that ‘sharing Is not caring’ when it came to sharing e-cigarettes.
Jackler told CNN that while there are “sensible public health warnings” the ads also ‘cross the line over to promoting vaping as a healthy thing to do, a safe thing to do and something that [the company] would encourage you to do during the pandemic.’