Two reports have found electronic cigarettes are using advertising and marketing tactics to target youth, the anti-tobacco organization Legacy found, which could lead to a new generation of nicotine addicts.

The studies focused on marketing e-cigarettes, and when Legacy surveyed teens and young adults on what they knew about e-cigarettes, they found they were frequently exposed to enticing ads. From January to November 2013, e-cigarette television advertisements reached 29.3 million teens and young adults. Of those, 58 percent were 12 to 17 years old.  

“Moreover, the only national brand owned by a major tobacco company, Blu, is reaching a significant portion of young Americans with its advertising. The effects of this are apparent, with nearly all young people aware of these products and use among young people rising rapidly,” according to Legacy’s report.

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are a new phenomenon among young adults and long-term smokers. But while users are smoking them, and in many cases, replacing them with regular cigarettes, the e-cigarettes remain a dangerous unknown. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the lack of research keeps users in the dark regarding e-cigarettes’ potential risks, the amount of nicotine inhalation they ingest, and whether or not the electronic version is really better than a regular cigarette at all.

E-cigarettes were originally developed in 2003 by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik and are now the most popular type of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) on the market today. These battery-run cigarettes were quickly advertised as a “healthy alternative” to smoking, as they are designed to deliver vaporized nicotine, along with other chemicals and unique flavors dispensed from various cartridges. Some of the flavors include cherry, apple, chocolate, vanilla, grape, and strawberry, and many are concerned this will attract children more — ultimately creating a gateway to nicotine addiction.

Electronic cigarettes have gained popularity as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. One study of 100,000 adults found the number of people who used e-cigarettes quadrupled between 2009 and 2010, according to Courthouse News Service. Much of its success can be attributed to its free range of advertising because, unlike a regular cigarette, e-cigarettes aren’t as regulated and can be advertised on television.

In April of 1970, President Richard Nixon signed legislation to ban cigarettes advertisements on both television and radio. According to History.com, the last televised cigarette ad ran on The Johnny Carson Show, Jan. 1, 1971. Today, many are wondering why e-cigarettes can be advertised on television, even though regular cigarettes have been banned from television for over 40 years.

“While cigarette advertising is prohibited on television, it is currently fair game to use television to promote electronic cigarettes. Using broadcast and online advertising has allowed the e-cigarette industry to promote its products in a way that has broad reach and is largely unregulated,” Legacy says.

Manufacturers of the electronic cigarette spent $39M on advertisement from June to November 2013 alone, and much of it was targeted toward youth, Legacy found. The Legacy organization was created in 1999 to fill the need for educating the public on the impact on tobacco. This came on the heels of the Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history, with the purpose of reducing smoking, with emphasis on youth, in the United States.   

The FDA has taken action and proposed regulating e-cigarettes that contain a nicotine-based glycerin compound that is derived from tobacco, which would restrict minors from buying e-cigarettes and contain health warnings.  

"Young adults often mistakenly think non-cigarette tobacco products are safe alternatives to cigarettes," according to the FDA’s proposed rule. The agency added, "Research has shown that youth are also particularly vulnerable to the appeal of novel tobacco products. Because of their addictiveness and the marketing and sale of these products (and their subsequent use by youth), some non-cigarette tobacco products can introduce youth into a lifetime of addicted tobacco product use and related harms, including premature death."

If the regulation is approved, e-cigarette manufacturers will not be allowed to hand out free samples and stop advertising the product’s health benefits without proper FDA-confirmation based on scientific evidence.

"Tobacco remains the leading cause of death and disease in this country," FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement. "This is an important moment for consumer protection and a significant proposal that if finalized as written would bring FDA oversight to many new tobacco products."