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June 12th, 2013
08:16 PM ET

Big tobacco lighting up TV ads

Most members of generation X would not remember seeing cigarette commercials on television, because they were banned in 1971. But smoking ads are creeping back onto the airwaves, with the brave new world of electronic cigarettes.

Actor Stephen Dorff started promoting the products last year.

"Blu lets me enjoy smoking without affecting the people around me because it's vapor - not tobacco smoke," Dorff says in one ad.

And there's the rub. Because "e-cigs" are tobacco-less, they are not subject to the same restrictions on television as tobacco products, even though the vapor contains habit-forming nicotine.

"This is a huge deal for both the tobacco companies and for ad agencies, because this presents a whole new revenue stream that they haven't had available since 1971," said Emma Bazilian, with Adweek.

Coming this summer, R.J. Reynolds, maker of Camel and Winston cigarettes, will begin marketing its new e-cigarette, Vuse, which could open the gates to a gold rush for advertising agencies.

"Companies are all vying for a piece of the growing e-cigarette market before the FDA starts cracking down and regulating them, which is expected to happen at some point in the near future, but for now, there's no one overseeing these companies so they can essentially do whatever they want on air," said Bazilian.

E-cigarette companies say their product targets current adult smokers as a way to smoke inside, at their desk, around their friends.

Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids worries about the effect these ads will have on children.

"Their ads make electronic cigarettes highly glamorous. We have spent decades trying to get rid of advertising on TV to make smoking look glamorous. They're undoing exactly what the goal of the ban on cigarette advertising was intended for," said Myers.

R.J. Reynolds said its marketing is aimed at switching adult smokers.

"We strongly believe kids shouldn't have access to these products. We only intend to market to adult tobacco consumers," a company spokeswoman told CNN.

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