Health and Science

Reynolds tobacco debuts e-cigarette commercial, tightens online vape sales to combat teen use

Key Points
  • Reynolds, a unit of British American Tobacco, is launching a TV campaign for its Vuse Alto e-cigarette.
  • Vuse customers will also be limited to buying three devices per quarter and spending $80 per week online.
  • The moves come as the Food and Drug Administration tries to combat "epidemic" levels of teen vaping.
A man poses for a picture as he vapes at a vape shop.
Daniel Becerril | Reuters

Reynolds American tobacco is tightening restrictions to buy its Vuse e-cigarettes online and running a national ad campaign to try to position itself as a leader in combating underage use amid a federal crackdown on teen vaping.

A unit of British American Tobacco, Reynolds is debuting its ad campaign on several cable networks, including CNN, The History Channel and AMC, starting Monday. Using the tagline "the perfect puff," the Vuse Alto is appealing to adult smokers to switch from combustible cigarettes. It is limiting customers on its online store from ordering more than $80 per week and three devices per quarter, the company said.

E-cigarette companies have rolled out their own sales restrictions since the Food and Drug Administration threatened banning nicotine vaporizers altogether amid what federal health officials call an "epidemic" of teen vaping." At the same time, they don't want to lose any more market share to start-up e-cigarette company Juul, which has dominated the industry since its debut in 2015.

"As a company, since we began marketing Vuse in the very beginning, we have been committed to preventing youth use of our vapor products," said Christy Canary-Garner, Vuse vice president of consumer marketing.

The Vuse e-cigarette captured about 13 percent of the convenience store market in the 12 months ended Feb. 9, according to Nielsen numbers compiled by Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog. Juul accounted for nearly 69 percent. The data do not include online and vape shop sales.

Vuse Alto looks similar to a Juul. It mirrors Juul's rectangular shape, though it's thicker and rounder. Pre-filled pods contain liquid nicotine in flavors like rich tobacco and mixed berry.

Health officials, including FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, blame flavors for attracting kids to e-cigarettes. In the fall, Juul suspended retail sales of most of its flavors. In January, it started running TV ads aimed at attracting adult smokers to switch from cigarettes.

The FDA in November said it would limit fruit flavors to be sold in age-verified stores like vape shops, while allowing tobacco, mint and menthol flavors to continue to be sold in convenience stores. The agency has not yet published its guidance on the rule.

Canary-Garner said Reynolds will be ready to comply, though it will continue selling the much-criticized fruity flavors in the meantime. She said tobacco, mint and menthol are the most popular Vuse flavors.

"We're unique in this position in that we have 100 years in understanding the adult tobacco consumer, and flavors do play a role in that," she said. "Consumers are seeking choice, not only in their device format but in their flavor and performance and in the satisfaction of that."

Reynolds' new commercial claims the Vuse Alto promises smokers "the perfect puff."

Canary-Garner said Reynolds requires models in its advertising to be at least 25 years and old and be styled to look older. Juul has been criticized repeatedly for using young models who looked like teenagers in one of its early ad campaigns.

Reynolds' ads will run during shows with at least 85 percent of viewers at least 18 years old, Canary-Garner said. The company declined to disclose how much it's spending on the campaign.

The online sales restrictions come on top of the company's existing age verification system. Reynolds picked $80 as the maximum customers can spend per week because it felt like that was enough for adults to buy what they need and allow the company to prevent teens from buying mass quantities and selling them to their friends.

Canary-Garner said Reynolds will also help train more retail employees to check identification through the We Card program.

Correction: Reynolds' ad campaign for the Vuse Alto e-cigarette has the tagline "the perfect puff." An earlier version mischaracterized the campaign. Reynolds' ads will run during shows with at least 85 percent of viewers at least 18 years old, Christy Canary-Garner, Vuse vice president of consumer marketing, said. An earlier version misquoted Canary-Garner.