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Beasley Allen

Vape manufacturers using Big Tobacco tactics to attract addicts for life

Vape manufacturers pulled page from Big Tobacco’s playbook to hook young consumers.

By Beasley Allen Law Firm
Like Big Tobacco decades ago, vape manufacturers may be luring consumers to become users for life.

Vape device manufacturers – JUUL center stage among them – have derailed one of the most successful public health campaigns in the country while turning many young people into nicotine addicts.

“It would be fascinating if it weren’t so sad,” says Dr. Linda Richter, who oversees policy-oriented research projects at the Center on Addiction. For decades, public health officials have worked to convince smokers to quit, and to stop those who have never smoked – youth in particular – from starting.

“Rates of smoking cigarettes were really among the lowest we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Richter says. Since 1996, smoking dropped 76% among youth and 43% among adults, according to The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “And then along comes e-cigarettes. We’re now looking at a generation of young people who are becoming addicted to nicotine. So, a problem we were about to eradicate is now emerging once again.”  

The first vaping devices were introduced to the U.S. in August 2009, but most people were dissatisfied, complaining that the tobacco left a bad taste in their mouths or that the devices didn’t deliver enough nicotine. It wasn’t until 2015 – the same year popular vape manufacturer JUUL was founded – that vaping began to catch on.

In fact, JUUL created a device that would deliver nicotine to the bloodstream so efficiently that the company considered adding mechanisms that would turn off the device after a certain number of puffs to prevent users from getting too much nicotine too fast, according to a Reuters report. In the end, the company never added those safeguards.

Additionally, JUUL and other vape manufacturers set out to tackle the bitter aftertaste, introducing a line of flavored e-liquids to mask the taste of tobacco, like menthol, mint, crème brûlée and mango. These efforts ignited worldwide interest in vaping. JUUL led the pack, with the company engulfing a sizable majority of the market share and drawing the interest of millions of teenagers and adolescents.

According to the nonprofit Truth Initiative, the main reason youth and young adults started vaping (77.9% and 90.3%, respectively) is because “they come in flavors I like.”

Like Big Tobacco decades ago, vape manufacturers knew that once teens were hooked on their products, they would be users for life. JUUL in particular pulled page after page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, recruiting celebrities and social media influencers – people kids look up to and emulate – to be brand ambassadors.

“They used models who looked young and who demonstrated fashion rebellion, satisfaction, freedom – the same kind of imagery the tobacco industry used in their advertising years ago,” Dr. Richter says.

Vaping also was promoted as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes with no evidence to back up those claims. With lax regulations on vape devices, “5.3 million kids started using these products for the fun of it,” Dr. Richter says. “Meanwhile, there was a consistent growing body of research emerging that showed these products may have a detrimental effect on health.”

According to a 2018 Truth Initiative study published in the journal Tobacco Control, 63% of current youth and young adult vapers did not know that the product always contains nicotine. In fact, nicotine levels in vapes are highly variable, with some reaching or exceeding levels found in combustible cigarettes. Regardless of what the labels say, “all e-cigarette products contain nicotine whether they say so or not,” Dr. Richter says. 

Nicotine exposure during adolescence, when the brain is still developing, can lead to nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also harms the parts of the brain that control attention and learning, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office.

Inhaling aerosol from vape devices can allow toxins and other chemicals deep into the lungs. This can lead to respiratory problems, including a life-threatening vaping-related lung injury that has affected more than 2,000 people across the country, killing more than 40, and leaving countless others hospitalized, on life support, or in need of lung transplants. 

An estimated 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students said they had vaped in the past year, according to a study published Nov. 5, 2019 in JAMA, an increase of about 1.7 million over the previous year.

The crucial piece that many teens don’t realize is that vaping is a gateway to cigarette smoking, Dr. Richter says. According to the 2018 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report, youth vaping is “strongly associated with an increased risk of ever using cigarettes (smoking) and moderately associated with progressing to more established smoking.”

Vaping is an epidemic that is chipping away at decades of progress toward preventing youth from using tobacco and protecting them from the No. 1 cause of preventable death – tobacco use.

“We know what works to effectively protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes,” the U.S. Surgeon General cautioned in a recent advisory. “We must now apply these strategies to e-cigarettes, including USB flash drive-shaped products such as JUUL.”

Joseph VanZandt, a lawyer at Beasley Allen Law Firm, is committed to raising awareness of vaping dangers and helping teens and parents fight back. To find out more, or talk about the dangers of vaping, and how you can join the effort to remove these dangerous devices from the hands of America’s children, visit Beasley Allen Law Firm at https://www.beasleyallen.com.

No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

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