E-cigarette consumers refer to themselves not as smokers, but as “vapers” – people who inhale vapor rather than tobacco smoke. And an e-cigarette company decided there was no better way to bring in the holiday season than branding Santa Claus as a vaper himself.
In Florida, Vapor Shark erected a billboard featuring Santa Claus smoking an e-cigarette, with the words, “I don’t always vape, but when I do, I choose Vapor Shark.” The billboard has attracted the criticism of e-cigarette opponents, who believe the electronic version of tobacco sticks still provide a “gateway” to smoking for young people. Indeed, what is more child-friendly than Santa Claus? Perhaps Barney vaping, but that would reach an entirely new level.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called it similar to old cigarette ads that were aimed at young people, and called the billboard “a new low,” according to ABC News.
Even some vapers themselves disapprove of the ad. “Showing Santa vaping, globally recognized as a children’s icon, is irresponsible and is and will be seen as a ploy to appeal to under age customers,” Aaron Frazier, a “vaper” himself, wrote on Vapor-Shark’s Facebook page, according to ABC News.
The advertisement harkens back to the days when big tobacco was still allowed to advertise Marlboros and Lucky Strikes in catchy posters and commercials, before the adverse health effects of cigarettes became apparent and ultimately pushed anti-tobacco regulations into place. Since the e-cigarette craze is relatively novel, no regulations have yet been put into place over their use, and not enough research has been completed regarding their safety. Currently, e-cigarette advertisements like this one aren’t regulated at all.
Vapor Shark, meanwhile, defends the advertisement as harmless. “We disagree … it’s a difference of opinion,” the company CEO, Brandon Liedel, told ABC News. “The only type of kid that would be persuaded by Santa Claus is a 5-year-old. I think a gorgeous woman would be more persuasive for a teenager.”
The Arcade Creative Group, a creative agency for e-cigarette company Njoy King, was asked by the company to “appeal to a broad audience of adult cigarette smokers, ages 21 to 45,” according to the New York Times. Adam Owett, the president of Arcade, noted that many e-cigarette ads refer to the old ads: “The way I’ve been thinking of it as ‘The shock of the old,’” Owett told the New York Times, in that “the classic cigarette ad cues and images have basically disappeared from the advertising and media landscape. This is a modern take on how you’d introduce a cigarette.”