To vape or not to vape

Deborah Wilber

After I was diagnosed with a heart condition, I became curious about vaping. This electronic cigarette appeared to be the answer to healthier tobacco use; people could have nicotine without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’ve been smoking tobacco ever since I first stole a Montclair cigarette from my dad’s nightstand at the age of 6, more than thirty years ago. I grew up with the tobacco promotional characters Marlboro Man and Joe Camel.

Graphic by Aubree Eckhardt

A lot has changed since 1997, when former President Bill Clinton banned their existence all together. Anti-smoking activists argued that the fictitious cartoon character, Joe Camel, was influencing kids to smoke.

Joe Camel was said to portray a cool, rebellious, adventurous character often seen hanging out in bars and casinos, riding motorcycles and driving cars, arguably all things associated with being cool.

Philip Morris Tobacco Company, on the other hand, took a different approach with their masculine cowboy, the Marlboro Man. “For man’s flavor, come to Marlboro country” was the most successful advertising slogan in tobacco history.

Yes, the banishment of these characters and smoking adds was successful in the decline of underage smokers. However, these numbers are on the rise again with the dawn of the vaping era.

National Youth Tobacco Survey started collecting data on e-cigarettes in 2011.

In 2015, the CDC Newsroom issued a press release stating e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014 with high school users rising from 660,000 to 2 million and middle school users from approximately 120,000 to 450,000.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) approved bipartisan legislation, The Creates Act. This act specifically targeted drug companies who prohibited generics from being made. Two senators attached amendments to this act to prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary committee but has not come to a floor vote.

Eighteen states have already passed Tobacco 21, including Utah. Much like the youth of today with vape devices, I could always get a hold of tobacco products somehow. I was not of legal age to smoke until 2001, but by this time I had already been smoking for 12 years.

Now, recent deaths and respiratory illnesses have been surfacing from the use of vape products, including marijuana. Specific health concerns began in April after 53 patients were diagnosed, but the first death came in late August.

Can we expect to see a permanent ban on vape advertising as we did with cigarettes? The current debate is not so much around the act of vaping nicotine but rather the causation of these illnesses.

The new question is whether or not the harmful effects of vaping THC are any different from nicotine regarding the way it is introduced into the body through the inhaling and exhaling of a particulate aerosol, which is often referred to and mistaken for water vapor.

It’s important for people to know that they are still inhaling nicotine, even if it tastes like cotton candy. President Trump has moved to create a ban on all flavored vape juices. Starting in May 2020, the FDA will require approval for vape products that have been on the market in order for them to be reinstated, according to the Washington Post.

We may not see fruity flavored vapes in the future just as we don’t see Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man anymore. For whatever ill-intended, convoluted reason, we will still see advertisements for nicotine, tobacco flavored vape alongside anti-tobacco ads from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which created the advertising mascot Joe Camel, is also the founder of the Vuse Digital Vapor Cigarette. Philip Morris, tobacco giant responsible for the Marlboro Man, is the maker of iQOS electronic cigarettes.

What does the billion-dollar tobacco industry have in store for us next? In 20 years, we have gone from “Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country,” to “Make the switch” to the nation’s now leading tobacco company, Altria.