Although electronic cigarettes have been around for almost a decade, they have only recently started to gain widespread public attention, partly as a result of their use by a number of well known celebrities.
One of the first on-screen appearances of an actor with an e-cigarette was that of Katherine Heigl on The Late Show with David Letterman on 27 September 2010. Heigl brought her electric cigarette with her on to the show and explained that she was using it to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes after trying a number of other methods: “I’ve tried everything. I did the patches. I did the gum. I did the Chantix twice.” Intrigued, Letterman asked to have a puff of the device and described it as “remarkable”. When asked if she was concerned that she might become addicted to it, Heigl replied that she was “totally addicted”, but that “it is not bad for you, so it’s a fun addiction”. Given the popularity of the show and the fact that most of the interview was devoted to a discussion of the electronic cigarette, this brought the product to the attention of millions of people in the United States and around the world.
Only a few months after Heigl’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, the e-cigarette appeared on-screen once again when it featured in the movie The Tourist which was released in the United States on 10 December 2010. Johnny Depp starred in the lead role, playing an American community college teacher who puffed an electric cigarette on a train. Although the movie was far from a hit, it nonetheless served to popularise the electronic cigarette.
At both the 2010 and 2011 Grammy Awards, e-cigarettes also made an appearance, albeit a less noticeable one. Attendees at the 2010 awards were given gift bags which contained the device, while the finalists at the 2011 awards received a crystal-encrusted electric cigarette. This was probably the handiwork of an astute businessperson with contacts in Hollywood who saw the huge marketing potential for their product if a movie star used it in public.
Indeed, not a small number of well-known actors and celebrities have been seen using the electronic cigarette in their private lives as an aid to quitting smoking. The most famous include Kevin Connolly, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Dennis Quaid, Charlie Sheen and Britney Spears. Lesser known figures include Danny Bonaduce, Trace Cyrus, Kevin Federline, Corey Feldman, Carrie Fisher, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Petty, Eric Roberts and Ryan Seacrest.
Using actors and other celebrities to market products has a long history. Some of the marketing techniques employed include cross promotion, product placement and the supply of free products to entertainment industry members in the hope that they will use them in public. These were some of the most popular tools used by the tobacco industry in its heyday when it had few constraints on the way it could market its product, times which have well and truly passed in Australia, the United States and most Western countries. It seems that e-cigarette companies are employing these same tactics to market their product.