How e-cigarette ads have targeted North American teens 

Big Tobacco is betting on e-cigarettes to capture the market of Canadian minors

How e-cigarette ads have targeted North American teens 

A planned merger between tobacco giants Philip Morris International and Altria Group would have heralded “a new era of Big Tobacco,” according to Bloomberg.

But talks of the $187 billion deal collapsed on September 25 following President Donald Trump’s administration’s announcement that it would ban most flavoured e-cigarette sales in the United States. 

Trump justified the decision with reports of an outbreak of lung injury cases associated with e-cigarettes, to which more than 1,000 cases and 18 deaths have been linked to in the US. He also cited the high e-cigarette usage among minors in the US.

On September 27, a Québec resident was confirmed as the first reported case of a vaping-related illness in Canada. 

A recent study reported that around 15 per cent of teenagers aged 16–19 in Canada vaped within a month of the survey, which occurred from 2016–2017.

Canadian law prohibits advertising vaping to minors, but regulation is rarely enforced

Canadian federal law prohibits “any promotion of tobacco or vapour products, including advertising, that may be appealing to young people.” 

But the law is loosely enforced in Ontario, according to CBC News

Health advocates have demanded ads for vaping be restricted in stores, similar to the law on tobacco products, which forbids the placement of tobacco ads in areas accessible to minors.

The lack of a rigorous definition of “appealing to young people,” together with thousands of outlets present in Ontario with e-cigarette advertisements, causes enforcement to be impractical.

In Ontario, it is illegal to sell vaping products to people under the age of 19. However, “there are always some stores willing to sell to minors without checking ID,” wrote Robert Schwartz, a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, to The Varsity

Other sources include older siblings, friends, parents, and the black market.

Such sales may have propelled Juul Labs, the San Francisco-based startup that popularized vaping, to grow to a $38 billion valuation at its peak.

Juul became the third most popular e-cigarette brand among teens in Canada within weeks of its first sales in the country. In December, Altria purchased a 35 per cent minority stake in the company, anticipating a future where vaping is more popular than cigarettes.

The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating Juul for targeting minors in its marketing, as its advertising campaign involved payments to social media influencers to promote Juul, though the company maintains it was a pilot project of limited size.

The US Food and Drug Administration and several US state attorneys general are also investigating Juul. Federal prosecutors in California launched a criminal investigation into Juul on September 23, though the focus of the probe remains unknown.

Juul denied that it has ever marketed to minors, maintaining that its marketing efforts are “all conveyed in a style, tone and message tailored to current adult smokers.”

Why is vaping attractive to minors?

Juul devices have been described as being “as slick as iPhones and as tasty and addictive as candy.”  

A Juul e-cigarette is comprised of two parts: the stick and the pod. The stick, shaped like a USB drive, can fit in the palm of a hand. The pod contains a concentrated solution of nicotine, with a typical one being advertised as having the same amount as a pack of cigarettes

The cost of a kit, which includes a USB charger, is about $65. 

The taste is also one of Juul’s selling points. Flavoured Juul pods currently account for more than 80 per cent of Juul’s sales, and as such, the planned US-wide ban on flavoured e-cigarettes could be devastating for the firm’s revenue.

“Mainly, in many youth circles, vaping is fashionable,” wrote Schwartz. “A common story is that e-cigarettes get shared at a party, it becomes cool to do it, after a few times, the nicotine takes effect and quickly enough some become dependent.”

Vaping is likely to be “significantly less harmful” than smoking cigarettes since it doesn’t involve burning tobacco. However, this might not be the case for unregulated products, which could be the cause behind the recent outbreak of lung injuries.

How are e-cigarettes advertised?

According to a 2019 study, Juul’s marketing has targeted minors since its product launch in 2015.

The co-authors found that Juul’s advertising highlighted sweet and fruity flavours in its products, featured youthful models in their 20s, and hired social media influencers to promote the product.

“This advertising in 2015 was short-lived, intended for adults, and took place well before JUUL gained any meaningful market share,” wrote Juul in a statement reported by Vox in January. This statement contradicts the conclusions of the 2019 study.

Pervasive advertising of e-cigarettes normalizes their usage, according to Schwartz, speaking on their marketing, which appears on social media, billboards, television, public transit, and convenience stores.  

Why is Big Tobacco investing in e-cigarettes?

Despite the market for cigarettes shrinking since 1982, revenue from cigarette sales have soared, according to a 2013 U of T study.

While “the number of cigarettes sold in the U.S. fell by 37% from 2001 to 2016,” according to The Wall Street Journal, tobacco companies still managed to raise cigarette revenue by 32 per cent.  

Cigarette sales have similarly fallen by 37 per cent in Canada from 2001–2017, though the change in revenue from these sales over time is unclear.

“When markets decline, the consumers who leave the market… have the lowest willingness to pay,” wrote David Soberman, a marketing professor in the Rotman School of Management and co-author of the 2013 paper, to The Varsity.

Canadian tobacco companies have gradually raised prices to boost profits, and also boosted revenue by cutting costs and facilitating mergers. However, Philip Morris International and Altria made a long-term bet that cigarette alternatives could sharply supplant cigarette smoking. 

When talks of a merger began in August, tobacco executives told the Financial Times that tobacco alternatives could be as profitable as cigarettes after heavy marketing investment.

“If consumers are going to leave the cigarette market anyway because the perceived safety of e-cigarettes is higher, it is best to go with the trend versus fighting it,” wrote Soberman.

The two firms strategized to outcompete rivals who did not offer cigarette alternatives, according to the Financial Times, which led to the now-cancelled merger.

Despite further setbacks to the e-cigarette market, such as Walmart’s September 20 announcement that it would stop selling all e-cigarette products, a merger between Philip Morris International and Altria could still be in the books.

Five days after Walmart’s announcement, the Financial Times reported that Philip Morris International will likely reconsider a deal with Altria once the regulatory environment settles. 

Such a merger could strengthen Juul’s international advertising and distribution in markets such as Canada’s.

Self-insight is not as important as your teachers have taught

Impactful U of T paper could change common thought in academic psychology

Self-insight is not as important as your teachers have taught

Contrary to popular belief in psychology, there is no relationship between self-insight — how accurately you can judge your own abilities — and certain areas of adjustment, indicated by measures such as life satisfaction. These potentially groundbreaking findings are from a recent U of T study published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Various competing perspectives exist in psychology about the relationship between self-insight and adjustment. Self-insight refers to how well people’s self-view, or beliefs about their levels of ability, match with their actual levels, while adjustment is essentially how well people function in life.

Self-insight is valued in institutions such as schools and workplaces, where individuals may be given feedback on their work, and are often encouraged to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses to improve performance.

But is it really best for your life satisfaction to accurately know your levels of ability? Could overestimating yourself and ‘self-enhancing’ boost confidence and be more beneficial? Or would another combination of high abilities and accurate self-views be optimal?

These are the types of questions that inspired coauthors Joyce He, a PhD candidate at U of T, and her advisor, Professor Stéphane Côté, to begin this study nearly two years ago.

Results do not support existing theories

He and Côté tested five main competing perspectives. The first, the self-insight perspective, proposed that adjustment is highest when self-views and abilities match. This enables individuals to perform confidently in their strengths while being aware of their weaknesses.

The second, the optimal margin of illusion perspective, suggests that regardless of abilities, adjustment is highest when positive self-views exceed ability by a certain amount. This provides enough confidence to motivate individuals while remaining realistic to their actual abilities.

The third and fourth perspectives posit that only positive self-view or only high abilities are related to high adjustment, while the other variable is irrelevant. These are named the positive self-views-only, and high abilities-only perspectives, respectively.

The fifth perspective proposed that the relationship between abilities and self-views is non-existent — rather, both variables are independently related to higher adjustment. Named the positive self-views and high abilities perspective, the hypothesis suggests that one’s abilities and accurate self-views of one’s abilities are both positively related with adjustment, after controlling for one another.

But all five perspectives were unsupported by the co-authors’ high-powered study.

An implication of the lack of support for all five perspectives, according to the co-authors, would mean that providing feedback to students and workers about their cognitive and emotional abilities — or enhancing their self-views — may not enhance their adjustment.

The many competing perspectives on self-insight and adjustment exist mainly due to two limitations of past research.

First, some studies determined self-insight by assessing how well people’s self-views matched with peers’ perceptions of them — which can be biased or inaccurate — or with their views of other people. This is also problematic, because discrepancies between one’s ratings of one’s own abilities and others’ abilities might be due to actual differences between people’s abilities, and not a lack of self-insight.

A second limitation stemmed from how past researchers used the difference between self-view and ability, the square of their difference, or other measures, in statistical analyses. These “difference scores” can conceal information by merging variables, and the correlations found can interpreted in various ways.

How the researchers overcame these two limitations

Using an online recruitment source, He and Côté surveyed 1,044 participants from the United States. This large sample size was calculated to provide high statistical power, at 95 per cent.

“Statistical power is essentially how much power you have to detect an effect, if it is there,” He explained to The Varsity. The sample size and size of the effect are two important factors affecting power — the number of participants should be large enough to detect the effect being studied.

To address the first limitation, the researchers measured the abilities objectively through a timed test of emotional ability. The test required participants to identify the emotions expressed by 72 photos of actors with different facial expressions, as well as a 20-minute cognitive ability test with 15 perceptual problems.

Self-views were measured by asking participants to rate how they think they scored on these tests. The researchers measured levels of psychological, interpersonal, and institutional adjustment by requiring participants to rank aspects of their life satisfaction, quality of relationships, and career satisfaction, respectively, in a daily diary format.

To reduce error from different types of biases, these measurements were collected over the span of a week. If a participant was in a bad mood, for example, it might have affected their responses. But by taking multiple measurements at different times, the data would be more representative of the participant’s general situation.

To overcome the second limitation, He and Côté analyzed their data in a new way, using polynomial regression to model the data and response surface analysis to generate a three-dimensional plot, showing every possible combination of abilities and self-views, and their relation to adjustment.

Analyzing the response surface graphs revealed that they did not meet the conditions required to support any of the five hypotheses. They did notice some patterns that may support self-enhancement, a relatively new perspective not included in the hypothesis, which posits that individuals whose self-views exceed their abilities will be better adjusted.

This perspective is somewhat counterintuitive, as it predicts that individuals with low abilities and high self-views would be the most adjusted, while individuals with high abilities would be less adjusted because their self-views cannot exceed their abilities by as much.

“One possibility here is that these self-enhancers are rating everything on a higher level,” said He. “So they’re rating their abilities higher, their self-views about their abilities are higher, but they’re also rating their life-satisfaction, career satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction higher.”

Study was published as a Registered Report aimed for transparency

He and Côté’s study is one of the first two Registered Reports published in Nature Human Behaviour. Traditional papers are submitted to journals after the study has been completed, whereas Registered Reports have researchers submitting their introduction, proposed methods, and plans for analysis before conducting the study.

Following the submission, reviewers and editors then consider the proposals and can make suggestions. If a proposal is approved, researchers conduct the study, with guaranteed publication of their results — significant or not.

Registered Reports are part of a push for greater transparency in psychological research, according to He. This design can help studies that may face difficulty with publication if they produce non-significant results.

“With the Registered Report, the editors are really trying to put more emphasis on the research questions that you have,” He said. “A lot of authors, they might have this really important question, [and] they [design a study to] test it.”

“But [if] they find null results, then they [may not] actually end up publishing [them],” she continued. “Because in our field, at least, you’re kind of incentivized to publish interesting results.”

Future steps following the study

Next steps could include studies designed to confirm evidence supporting the self-enhancers perspective. These might measure adjustment with variables that are not self-reported, such as peer opinions and objective performance at work.

In terms of potential applications of these findings to policy, education, or management, He believes that more research needs to be done.

“Once we see from a few studies, or a bunch of studies, that we see the same patterns over and over again, then I think that that’s when we can actually draw the conclusion.”

Editor’s note (October 18, 2019, 6:15 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that the fifth hypothesis, which contends that the relationship between abilities and self-views is non-existent, is based on existing research literature.

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

Alibaba president, Sanctuary AI founder among speakers discussing the future, impacts of technology

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

The Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab hosted 24 of the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, business leaders, economists, and thinkers on October 23. The “4th Annual Rotman Conference on: Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence” featured discussions of AI and the impact it will bring to the future of business, medicine, and numerous other industries.

Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Shivon Zilis, the project director of Tesla and Neuralink, co-chaired the 11.5-hour event. Among the speakers were Alibaba — the world’s largest online retailer — President Michael Evans, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and U of T Emeritus distinguished professor Geoff Hinton. Despite their unique perspectives, one message was clear: machine intelligence will revolutionize how we think about solving problems.

The event began with talks from leaders in the international business sector on why industries worldwide are rapidly adopting machine intelligence into their business practices. Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, explained how monumental AI will be toward optimization and efficiency. Sneader said that he expects “mainstream absorption” of AI within the next decade. Evans showcased Alibaba’s automated distribution facilities powered by intelligent roving robots and its multitiered corporate strategy to adopt AI.

The speakers made it clear that businesses see the huge potential upsides associated with smart automation, but none discussed the issues that AI adoption may bring to the labour force or customer data responsibility.

Many industry pioneers dream of closing the gap between human and artificial intelligence, and they want you to know that the results don’t have to parallel dystopian sci-fi. Suzanne Gildert, CEO of Sanctuary AI, is building sentient, fully autonomous robots powered by the next generation of AI.

The artist-turned-technologist said that designing the first generation of synths with realistic human bodies will allow them to interface with our human world. Debates around the treatment, regulation, and integration of robots into human society are still very unresolved, but Gildert hopes that AI will push humankind to new heights. Citing the possibilities to create hyper-empathetic, creative, and intelligent minds, Gildert emphasized her optimism for the future of AI.

She ended her talk with a fascinating, albeit slightly terrifying, demo of a robotic clone of herself, complete with a matching silicon body and voice capabilities.

Perhaps one of the more sobering talks of the day was given by theoretical physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute Geoffrey West, who discussed the “socioeconomic entropy” that comes with chasing innovation. Despite the optimism of other speakers and the crowd in light of continued innovation and growth, West cast doubt over humanity’s ability to support sustained accelerated innovation.

Based on his research into the scale of companies and human networks, he suggested an underlying futility to the aspirations of the field. This alternate perspective brought a human context back to the event; if we don’t understand how we grow, we are doomed to collapse under our own weight.


The lower floors of the event hosted Toronto AI companies, who demonstrated their latest and greatest tech. Dozens of startups and corporations presented their efforts to integrate AI into solutions for specific industry problems, highlighting the extent of AI adoption.

TD commits $6.7 million to Rotman initiatives

Bank funds research in data analytics, health care, behavioural economics

TD commits $6.7 million to Rotman initiatives

TD has announced three financial contributions to U of T’s Rotman School of Management. The donations consist of $4 million to establish the TD Management Data and Analytics Lab, $2.5 million to become a founding member of the Creative Destruction Lab’s (CDL) Health stream, and approximately $200,000 toward the Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman (BEAR) centre.

Speaking of donations generally, Ken McGuffin, Rotman’s Media Relations Manager, wrote in an email to The Varsity that this type of support allows Rotman “to invest in innovative academic and experiential programs, provide door-opening scholarships to students in need, support research by our faculty and much more.”

TD Management Data and Analytics Lab

The bulk of TD’s financial contributions will be used to fund the establishment and staffing of a new data analytics lab at Rotman. This lab will provide Rotman students with a greater range of resources for research in data and analytics, including funding workshops, hackathons, and guest lectures.

The research output coming from this partnership will remain in the public domain. The partnership is “about the general public good and [TD’s] ability to work with students,” according to Christian Nelissen, TD’s Head of Enterprise Data and Analytics. Nelissen added that Rotman “has a terrific brand reputation” and that it is “very much aligned into what [TD is] trying to do and how we think about future of data and analytics and the respective roles in that.”

“Rotman is a great partner because… their job is to build the managers of the future and to broaden out people’s horizons and… the broader capability around data analytics,” said Nelissen.

Toronto ranked as the fourth best North American city in CBRE’s 2018 tech talent markets report, and Rotman’s increased research funding is expected to add to the city’s growing tech sector.

TD further hopes that fostering this strong partnership with Rotman will encourage more graduates to work for the bank. This is an equally valuable outcome for Rotman. “The support of TD and our other partners… in providing internship, employment, and other learning opportunities is tremendous. Experiential learning is a key part of many of our programs,” said McGuffin.

The partnership is for an initial five-year period. Nelissen described it as “more than just a commercial relationship,” and as one that will continue to develop over time. “We also have to make sure that Rotman grows and develops and gets to do what it wants to do,” he said.

The $4 million contribution follows TD’s $1 million donation to the Rotman Financial Innovation Hub in Advanced Analytics last year, which helped develop new classes and learning opportunities in financial innovation, including workshops and scholarships.

CDL Health stream

TD’s $2.5 million pledge to the CDL makes it a Corporate Founding Member of the CDL Health stream, which focuses on biotechnology, bioinformatics, diagnostics, and digital care. The CDL “merges science-based projects with business expertise to help young companies scale-up into creators of new jobs, processes, and services,” according to its website.

In March, TD launched the Ready Commitment, which sets a $1 billion target for philanthropy by 2030 to “support change, nurture progress, and contribute to making the world a better, more inclusive place.”

Andrea Barrack, TD’s Vice-President of Global Corporate Citizenship, considers work with the CDL as important to fulfilling the Ready Commitment. “We’re a large bank… but we don’t have enough money to actually solve all of the health care issues that are out there. And so what we’re looking for is, what can we fund that would be catalytic in its impact?” she said. “What can we do in health care to actually make it more accessible to the patient and make it easier to access? And so I think that was the CDL.”

Startups in the Health stream will attend five in-person objective-setting sessions between October 2018 and June 2019. Startups that address health-related issues at any level of development will be considered for inclusion in the stream. The Health stream currently operates at two of the CDL’s six locations: one at U of T, and the other in Vancouver. Barrack added that there is a “huge growth plan and certainly massive interest,” and that TD wants “to be able to significantly contribute to [the CDL] being able to scale and meet the demand [for health startup incubators].”

Artificial intelligence (AI) developments and startups flourish within the CDL because it provides a longer incubation period, according to Tomi Poutanen, TD’s Chief AI Officer and a founding fellow of the CDL. Unlike “incubators that you race to create a pitch… [at the CDL], over a nine-month period, you get coached and find a market and are able to build a business,” he said, Poutanen noted that with over 100 AI companies operating through the CDL, it is recognized as the largest AI venture accelerator.

This partnership is also for an initial five-year period. “We want to contribute in the way that we can, but it’s not a quid pro quo for us, right? When we use our philanthropy, we believe in the potential impact of that project. We want to be able to be helpful to that, but we don’t ever put ourselves in a decisioning role around what goes forward or not,” said Barrack.

BEAR centre

TD has been working informally with Rotman in the development of its Discovery Tool, a survey that identifies an investor’s ‘Wealth Personality.’ Investors answer a survey relating to their personality and preferences, as well as their financial plans, to allow TD advisors to identify financial blind spots.

The survey is an example of behavioural economics, and it is used to “further examine and research the underlying emotions and behaviours that drive financial decision making,” according to Rotman’s press release.

David Terry, TD’s Vice-President of Wealth Segment Strategy, said that TD Wealth identified Rotman as a top school focusing on behavioural economics in Canada. “[BEAR] has some of the best minds as it relates to behavioral economics and behavioral finance in Canada. We value that expertise, academic research, the approach to parsing through data.”

The partnership, which covers an initial two-year period, will specifically allow TD to adapt BEAR’s behavioral economics research and apply it to benefit TD clients and advisors. “There will be probably some areas where [TD] will want some exclusivity for a period of time, but the reality is, a lot of this should benefit Rotman’s future thinking in terms of how they can apply this across industries, let alone financial services,” said Terry.

Editor’s Note (October 21): This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Ken McGuffin.

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

New study shows virtuous politicians more successful leaders than those prone to vice

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

It has been debated for centuries whether political leaders who exhibit cold and calculating traits are more likely to succeed than those who are empathetic. A recent study, co-authored by Christopher Liu from the Rotman School, might shed light on this dispute. The study shows that politicians who tend to be more virtuous make more effective leaders. 

The researchers focused on two competing models of influencing people. The model is based on the idea that virtuous qualities make a leader more influential, and a more Machiavellian model, where what they call ‘vices’ play the dominant role. The goal of the study was to see how these two social strategies affected political leaders’ abilities to influence their peers after taking on a leadership role.

The researchers examined videos of 151 US senators from different political parties and congresses who were active between January 1989 and December 1998. They watched the first minute of each randomly selected video to detect exhibitions of virtues or vices in the senators. Coding guidelines, based on standard behavioural traits, were used to assess the verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the senators for vice and virtue. The data collected was compared with the number of colleagues the senators recruited as collaborative co-sponsors on bills that they created. The correlation data enabled the researchers to make inferences based on behaviour.

The research found that senators with virtuous behaviour, when promoted to a committee chair role, were more likely to get other congress members to co-sponsor proposed legislation. On the other hand, senators exhibiting vices were no more influential, and in some cases less influential, than they were before getting the leadership role. Leaders who value others garnered more support from colleagues, while those who were manipulative, self-centred, or competitive did not.

This begs the question: could a politician prone to vice simply fake being virtuous to gain support? Liu says that while attempts to fake virtuous behaviour might happen, it is extremely difficult to mimic all of the associated behaviors effectively. In the case of the senators included in the study, Liu says it would be very difficult for them to maintain a false behavioral profile across such a long time period.

“There are so many behaviors to control — verbal content, vocal cues, nonverbal behavior, and emotional expression,” said Liu.  “One’s true personality is likely to be revealed, even if a person tries to conceal it.”

The researchers also found that there were not many correlations between education and age with the possession of vice or virtue. They also found no correlation based on party affiliation, suggesting that vice or virtue are personality traits independent of political ideology. 

While decoding behaviour may sound like a complicated task meant for seasoned researchers, everyday voters are capable of picking up on important cues too.

“For example, courageous individuals are more likely to speak loudly and emphatically, express their emotions freely, and do not engage in speech hesitations (um, ah, er),” explained Liu.

Considering politician’s virtue may be rewarding for voters, as virtuous elected officials might care for their supporters and make more progress in government. 

“I do believe that [the research] may apply to present-day politics, but I would be cautious in extending it to Canadian politics,” said Liu, explaining that Canada’s parliamentary system is very different from the US legislature.

Liu’s next project will be investigating influence dynamics within the US Senate through language use.