“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you’re better off smoking cigarettes.”
I was at a physical therapy session when a news report came on discussing the dangers of e-cigarettes. On the heels of yet another vaping-related death, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had announced a statewide ban on the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids.
“Is it really that bad?” I asked Ben, my trainer, as I struggled through a series of reps with an exercise ball. His expression answered the question for me.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about vaping. Luckily, Ben was happy to educate me (it wasn’t enough that he’s already helping with the back and hip pain that’s plagued me for years).
“Basically,” he said, “you’re inhaling a vapor that comes from a battery-powered device, like an e-cigarette.” The devices contain cartridges filled with a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings, and chemicals.
Yup, chemicals. And here’s the kicker. As if potentially cancer-causing chemicals isn’t enough, the aerosol that users are breathing in also contains heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead, according to the CDC.
I’ll admit that sounds pretty horrible, but does it warrant a statewide ban? Yes, flavored e-cigarettes are hazardous, but so is chewing tobacco, and cigarettes, and many more things that are legal. Why is the government going after this particular market?
I quickly learned that the problem isn’t so much with the product itself — although that is certainly a factor — but rather the way it’s been advertised. A few years ago, vaping manufacturer Juul Labs launched a social media strategy aimed at young people. By several accounts, they “directly marketed to high school students, to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and to smoking cessation groups.” This goes beyond postings ads on Facebook, Instragram, and Twitter – which the company also did. Juul allegedly sent representatives into schools and told kids the product was “totally safe.”
To me, that’s beyond shameful. It conjures up images of Mickey Mantle endorsing Camel Cigarettes for the “swell taste.” In that infamous ad, Mantle says he decided to give Camels a try because “so many of the Yanks” prefer that particular brand. But as much as I like to take shots at the Yankees, this was a different time, when little was known – or at least publicized – about the dangers of tobacco.
Nowadays, we know better, and advertisements are held to a much higher standard … right?
Wrong. Earlier this year, Juul poured $10 million into an advertising campaign that promotes e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. In the “Make the Switch” commercials, a handful of individuals describe the positive changes they’ve experienced after essentially trading one vice for another.
Again, absolutely shameful. And while Juul has become a juggernaut, healthcare facilities are seeing a rise in vaping-related health issues.
Here are just a few sobering statistics:
- About 37 percent of high school seniors reported vaping in 2018, up from 28 percent the year before.
- In 2018, 3.6 million middle school and high schools students reported using e-cigarettes, representing a significant jump from 2.1 million the previous year (Harvard Medical School).
- According to CNN, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now aware of at least 450 possible cases of severe lung disease that could be caused by vaping across 33 states.
Oh, and Harvard researchers also found that teens who vape are more likely to begin smoking cigarettes. Lovely.
The good news? This past week, the FDA issued a warning to Juul about its marketing practices, threatening to take “more aggressive action” if they fail to comply with requests for information (i.e., proof that their product “does, in fact, pose less risk or is less harmful”).
The bad news? Some believe the damage has already been done; an entire customer base has already been created — would it make any difference if Juul was forced to come clean?
I think it might. While I’m sure a lot of people will continue to vape or smoke despite knowing the risks, I believe there is a significant portion of individuals who, when armed with the truth, will make a much healthier switch.