San Francisco-based e-cigarette company, Juul Labs, is famous for its vaporizer device that is commonly used among middle school, high school and college students. The company, estimated to be worth $15 billion, was recently the subject of an FDA investigation. Lawsuits filed in multiple states — Pennsylvania, California, New York and Florida — have alleged that Juul intentionally “preys” on youth by utilizing tactics once used by tobacco companies in the past.
Juul, and other e-cigarette companies like them, must end their improper marketing practices.
One case alleges that Juul targets youth by “creating advertising images that exhibit images portraying independence, adventurousness, sophistication, glamour, social inclusion, sexual attractiveness, thinness, popularity, rebelliousness and being ‘cool.’”
Juul’s projected reputation of being “cool” and “glamorous” is achieved by its use of social media. The company ran a “Vaporized” advertising campaign, which included the use of a 12 unit billboard display on New York City’s Times Square and a front page spread in Vice Magazine’s July issue. The lawsuits also note a “vaping culture” amongst youth, citing the prevalent use of hashtags like “#juulnation” and “#vapenation” on social media. More notably, one lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York alleges the existence of “Twitter bots” or accounts that have “a small number of followers, follow few other users” and “post exclusively about Juul content.”
Old tobacco ads have shown a similar evolution. As marketing for adults becomes tougher, youth become the target market. Big tobacco brands like Kool, Camel and Marlboro began their marketing campaigns showing their products as medicinal solutions for discomforts like the common cold. These brands also used endorsements by physicians to advocate tobacco’s health benefits. This past trend is not a far cry from the current beliefs held by many health professionals regarding vaporizers.
Once cigarettes were found to be detrimental to health, marketing tactics began to change and the birth of the famous Marlboro man was born. The same “tough,” “cool” and “popular” attributes that Juul uses mirrors these characters Big Tobacco envisioned. In making an effort to appeal to younger generations, sex appeal began to take part of this campaign. Scantily dressed women and rebellious young men were portrayed as enjoying smoking.
While not all vape juices contain tobacco, the nicotine contained in them can have serious health consequences. Nicotine, in the concentrated liquid form found in e-cigarette pods, affects the respiratory and neural functions of the body negatively. What’s worse are the known carcinogens like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde — byproducts of vaporizing the cocktail of chemicals found in vape juices. Because vaping is a relatively recent phenomenon, the long-term effects of repeated consumption are still yet to be determined.
In 2016, the National Youth Tobacco Survey published its findings on why minors use electronic cigarettes. The commonly selected reasons were prior use “by ‘friend or family member’ (39 percent), availability of ‘flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate’ (31 percent), and the belief that ‘they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes’ (17 percent).”
Similar to the 2009 Family Smoking and Tobacco Prevention Act, which banned the sale of cigarettes with flavors other than menthol or tobacco, San Francisco passed Proposition E in June 2018. This proposition banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored liquids containing nicotine used in e-cigarettes. New York state is also planning a ban similar to that of San Francisco. According to a Wall Street Journal in November 2018, “The Food and Drug Administration plans to sharply restrict the sale of most flavored pod-style e-cigarettes, effectively pulling them from most convenience stores and gas stations.”
The regulations that could potentially be put in place could affect many students positively around the country.
Nicotine addiction is a serious health issue. At the University of San Francisco, the utilization of vaping devices is prevalent and constant. While California state law requires users to be at least 21 years of age, many underaged people still possess and consume nicotine-containing products. Many would admit that they consume the popular flavors that companies like Juul Labs produce. E-cigarettes are a fairly new technology and their long-term effects, whether they are detrimental or positive, are still being researched by top health professionals around the country.
The social activism of San Franciscans and many concerned Americans alike, accompanied with the protections the FDA are trying to implement, may very well be a step in the right direction for a healthier America.