In-Person Retail Marketing Claims in Tobacco and E-Cigarette Shops in Southern California

Background:E-cigarette use has been increasing in the United States, though knowledge of potential risks and harms associated with e-cigarette use is low. Marketing of e-cigarettes may serve as a source of information to shape beliefs and attitudes toward e-cigarettes. The purpose of this study was to identify the most common marketing claims made within “vape” and tobacco shops in sales interactions with customers in demographically diverse cities. Methods:Vape and tobacco shops from three diverse cities in Southern California were selected for inclusion in the study. From May 2015 to July 2015, simulated customers asked salespeople in vape and tobacco shops how e-cigarettes compare to conventional cigarettes, and then recorded the resulting claims that were made using a standardized form designed for this purpose. Data were analyzed from January to March 2016. Results:The most frequent claims made by sales staff were that: smoking e-cigarettes helps one quit smoking (57% of the simulated shopping interactions), e-cigarettes come in multiple flavors (54%), and e-cigarettes are healthier than conventional cigarettes (50%). Simulated customer interactions that took place in vape shops included more positive marketing claims than those that occurred in tobacco shops; this relationship approached statistical significance (p = .087). There was a significant relationship between city and the average number of positive e-cigarette claims made (p < .001). Conclusions:A wide range of marketing claims are made about e-cigarettes in retail settings. These may vary by geographic location, community demographics, and type of retail outlet.