Two years ago, I wrote a feature for my high school’s newspaper on vaping — society’s latest trend because of its “harmless yet effective way to feel good,” according to my interviewees. Such statements were adopted almost verbatim from the e-cigarette industry’s marketing campaign, which advertised e-cigarettes as a “totally safe” alternative to real cigarettes.
As of Oct. 7, 2019, 22 people have died of a vaping-related illness, 1,080 have been diagnosed with a mysterious lung disease, and the outbreak has spread to 48 states and one territory, with the number of those falling victim to the epidemic skyrocketing. Not to mention the millions of adolescents now addicted to nicotine.
This striking disconnect is the reason Juul Labs, one of the largest purveyors of e-cigarettes that has an estimated $15 billion valuation, has found itself at the center of a world-wide public health crisis — one that primarily affects teenagers, including those on Penn’s campus, and one that deserves our utmost attention in order to better the physical, mental, and emotional health of our generation.
Juul was recently sent a warning letter by the Food and Drug Administration, which accused the corporation of “illegally market[ing] its vaping products as a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes.” In addition to violating the law mandating that “companies demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful” prior to labeling such products as being reduced-risk, the dominant e-cigarette company knowingly marketed its e-cigarettes, despite the fact that there had been virtually no “scientific evidence” of the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.
Moreover, their ad campaign “Make the Switch,” which is targeted at traditional cigarette-smokers, has caught heat for implying that their product is a “smoking cessation option.” Such rhetoric has played a key role in students across campus and nationwide falling victim to the epidemic, with many defending the habit with a casual “at least it’s not a traditional cigarette.” This mentality, which Juul has force-fed us in a money-driven ploy to increase its profits, has led our generation to forget that nicotine, no matter the ingestion process, has detrimental health effects.
Not only is the younger generation not the primary user of traditional cigarette smokers, for which e-cigarettes were originally intended, but the young are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction and its harmful neurological effects, as their brains are not fully developed. This is especially prevalent on college campuses like at Duke, Penn, and others, who have chosen not to ban vaping because of the fallacious belief that “just banishing e-cigarettes from campus isn’t likely to solve the vaping problem,” especially if they’re “designed to help smokers quit.”
And yet, studies have shown that teenagers who vape are four times more likely to switch to conventional cigarettes — directly contradicting the e-cigarette companies’ commitment to ending traditional cigarette smoking, on which their entire empire was built.
This contradiction should come as no surprise, however, considering Juul has already shown where its priorities lie through its recent sale of 35% of its company to Altria, one of the leading cigarette companies, and decision to replace its CEO with K.C. Crosthwaite, a top official at Altria. Profits at the expense of public health certainly appears to be Juul’s mantra.
Notably, this is not the only time Juul has dropped the capitalistic ball, although this time it hasn’t worked out in its favor. In a society where government support for large corporations is largely determined by the amount of money such corporations have given to the elected official and/or political party in power, Juul has jumped on the lobbying bandwagon. But despite the millions of dollars the company has thrown at Washington, the Trump administration issued a proposal on Sept. 11 to ban flavored e-cigarettes, which will likely severely impact the company. Why the administration chose to selectively ban flavored-cigarettes as opposed to other tobacco products, let alone firearms — both of which have harmed millions more people — is another story. But regardless of what specifically incentivized the president to address e-cigarettes with such eagerness, one thing is true: this epidemic should not be ignored.
While one might be inclined when presented with e-cigarettes’ severe health consequences to just tell one’s peers to stop, we’re way past that. The vaping industry has successfully infected an entire generation of adolescents with nicotine addictions whose inevitable withdrawal processes involve such extreme consequences as suicidal thoughts, strokes, seizures, respiratory problems, and more, as highlighted by myriad scientific reports and numerous lawsuits.
It is our job, as both the generation which has fallen victim to the epidemic, as well as the generation given the overwhelming task of bettering our country, to fight against “Big Vape” and for an end to this public health crisis. Force Penn and other educational facilities to better advertise the harms of vaping. Demand that real research be done on the trend’s long-term effects. Start a petition to prohibit convenience stores around campuses and academic institutions from selling e-cigarettes. Make Big Vape pay for its mistakes by compensating those who’ve been put in harm’s way.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Let’s do everything we can to ensure that such deaths really are prevented.
HADRIANA LOWENKRON is a College sophomore studying Urban Studies. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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