ASSADI: Vaping companies target children

Column: Dose of Reality

 Since the start of college this year, multiple friends and new people I met expressed their desire to quit “juuling,” a type of vaping with the product JUUL. It had been controlling their thoughts and the way that they spend their money. Some had developed coughs, some developed severe withdrawal symptoms. 

I could not immediately remember a time where I did not see a juul at least once a day. Was it 2016? Was I a sophomore? Regardless, by the time I was a junior, I had seen a juul jump into my peers’ hands in bathrooms, classrooms, cars and parties. I felt, and so did my other peers, that this product crept into the spaces of high school students. 

The gut feeling that there was a spike in vape use is no falsehood. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared a 78% increase in high schoolers vaping in one year alone, from November 2017 to 2018, according to TIME. Now, 27.5% of high schoolers vape, totaling at around 4 million American teenagers. 

This spike has had noticeable consequences. There have been approximately 530 serious cases of lung injury and seven deaths linked to vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With the recent news coverage of deaths occurring to vaping, in which peoples’ lungs were injured, doctors were seeing increases in respiratory disease cases coming from people who vaped nicotine, used THC liquid or both. 

The disconnect between the harms and the growth in usage starts with the marketing campaigns. Unlike tobacco and cigarette companies, there is a lack of restrictions on the type of advertisements JUUL can put on television. There was an informational vacuum left in the smoking market that JUUL came to fill in. 

It left no tobacco marketing strategy unturned. According to the New York Times, The vape and e-cigarette industry has already spent $57 million on TV ads this year, with JUUL at the top of the spending list, according to The New York Times.

Although JUUL executives claim that their vaping product is only for adults, the marketing style does not reflect that. Research from Stanford found that JUUL has been intentionally marketing to youth, not toward adult smokers, as claimed by the company, according to the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. There has been a change in tune of JUUL's advertisements recently, which includes adult smokers who have ditched cigarette smoking in favor of juuling. 

But the initial campaign, titled “Vaporized,” had flashy colors, 20-year-olds and candy flavors in its television advertisements, all of which are restricted for tobacco and cigarette companies. 

Those restrictions are well-placed, as the leading causes of death in America can be tied back to tobacco. Additionally, the tobacco industry had used these campaign tactics of appealing to the younger generations through movie stars and radio advertisements. 

It was not a result of the numerous deaths due to tobacco-related causes, or because people began to read the studies about the health effects of cigarettes. It was only possible because of a widespread and forceful anti-smoking campaign, waged by non-profit companies and public school health education. 

The lack of intense informational campaigns against vaping, or juuling specifically, support the narrative in peoples’ minds that juuling must be safe. The younger generations only see the numerous YouTube videos of teenagers trying out new vape flavors and Dave Chappelle juuling onstage. 

Additionally, a hidden tool in the advertisement model of vape companies is social media. By sponsoring young influencers on Instagram, many below the legal age to buy vapes — which is 21 years old in New Jersey and 18 years old in many states — are influenced by companies who have unlimited access to millions of these impressionable people. 

The effects of these advertisements are visible in the growth of vape usage by high school students, but the more sinister legacies are its gateway effect to cigarettes, and nicotine’s effect on the developing brain. Eighth-graders who vape are 10 times more likely to smoke cigarettes than their non-vaping classmates, according to TIME. 

The specific effects of nicotine on the brain “indicate that smoking during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment in later life,” according to a study done by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Furthermore, teenage smokers tend to suffer from attention deficits, which worsen over the years of smoking.

The proper response to a substance that can be potentially harmful to young people calls for education initiatives in schools, and informative public service announcements on the dangers of vaping and nicotine on the brain. The dependency of America’s younger generations on nicotine should not go unseen. 

When I ask my peers about the effects that they are aware of with juuling, most of their faces go blank. Maybe, if there was comprehensive education in schools and on our screens, my friends would not have taken their first, second and 100th hit of a juul. 

 Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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