The ads have popped up everywhere in recent years, from TV commercials featuring celebrities to model-adorned magazine spreads to banners splashed across websites. E-cigarette marketing has become so ubiquitous that it now reaches more than two-thirds of U.S. middle and high school students, according to a report Tuesday – a development that some public health officials argue is prompting more teens to use the devices and threatening decades of progress in combating youth tobacco use.

“It’s the Wild West out there when it comes to e-cigarette advertising,” said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the data. “It’s no coincidence that as the advertising has skyrocketed, the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed.”

CDC’s findings were drawn from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which included a representative sample of more than 22,000 middle and high school students. Nearly 70 percent – an estimated 18.3 million students – reported having seen e-cigarette marketing in at least one setting that year. They were most likely to see e-cig ads in retail stores, followed by the Internet, television, movies, newspapers and magazines. Young people reported seeing more ads for conventional cigarettes and other tobacco products in retails stores than for e-cigarettes, but the level of exposure in other venues was comparable.

Anti-smoking advocates and public health officials say advertising for conventional tobacco products such as cigarettes triggers increased experimentation among young people, leading to more smokers. They worry the same scenario is playing out with e-cigarettes, which currently don’t face the advertising restrictions that apply to traditional cigarettes. That’s bad news, they say, because of evidence that nicotine use can negatively affect the developing brains of teenagers, because so much remains unknown about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes and because young people who try them could wind up as regular smokers.

“This is a problem,” Frieden said. “Whatever you think about adult use of e-cigarettes, kids should not be using e-cigarettes.”

Tuesday’s report comes as the e-cigarette industry continues to flourish in the United States. Sales have grown exponentially, hitting an estimated $2.5 billion in 2015. E-cigarette advertising has grown to an estimated $115 million in 2014.


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