By Amelia Harris
Staff Writer for Wake Up World
Vaping is quickly becoming an epidemic in the United States. It has claimed the lives of 35 individuals, and more than 1,600 other cases of “vaping illness” have been confirmed by the CDC. As a result of the devices’ worldwide use, there have even been more than 200 cases of vaping illness documented in the United Kingdom. These illnesses range from nicotine poisoning to pneumonia, and severe cases have left victims with lungs that resemble those of an elderly, lifelong smoker.
Recent developments in the CDC’s investigation into vaping-related hospitalizations have found that black market THC cartridges are the cause of the illnesses, although it is not yet clear what in the THC cartridges is making patients so sick. Some physicians and health investigators believe that Vitamin E oil is to blame, while 58% of Americans still believe that nicotine inhalation is the cause of the illnesses.
Despite these recent incidents nationwide, e-cigarettes were initially designed to help smokers quit their habits. The first e-cigarette of sorts was invented in 1979, and worked by using “vaporized” nicotine. Although these devices were faulty and never gained popularity, the term “vaping” stems from this first iteration. The e-cigarettes that consumers are familiar with today were introduced to the U.S. market in 2006, after they were initially imported from China. This first reliably-working e-cigarette was created by a pharmacist in Beijing a few years prior who was trying to successfully quit smoking.
The “vape pods” that are inserted in e-cigarettes predominantly consist of water and nicotine, which is why vape pens and bulkier e-cigarettes have been perceived as a safer way to satisfy a nicotine addiction than a traditional cigarette. This public perception was exploited by e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL, who marketed its product as the last smoking solution that people who couldn’t quit cigarettes would need.
Although this successfully incentivized smokers to pick up vaping, there have been no scientific studies that have been able to confirm this claim. The FDA has even sent JUUL multiple warning letters as a result of this false claim, stating, “Regardless of where products like e-cigarettes fall on the continuum of tobacco product risk, the law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful. JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”
E-cigarettes contain a much more concentrated percentage of nicotine than traditional cigarettes do, which makes vaping more addictive than smoking traditional cigarettes. This, and the subsequent lung illnesses, seizures and deaths, has led vape users and the parents of underage vape users to sue e-cigarette manufacturers. The plaintiffs allege that companies like JUUL falsely claimed that their products are safer than traditional cigarettes and illegally targeted marketing for the product to adolescents.
As a result of e-cigarettes being so addictive and the fruitful sales for manufacturers, Big Tobacco and traditional cigarette companies have been purchasing stakes in e-cigarette companies for the past decade. In 2018, tobacco giant Altria, Philip Morris USA’s parent company, purchased a 35% stake in JUUL Labs, Inc. Despite the health issues associated with vaping, JUUL is projected to make more than $3 billion USD in revenue for 2019.
Ownership is not the only thing e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes have in common. The two have been marketed very similarly, too, with false health claims and aggressive marketing strategies commonly used in both markets. Camel Cigarettes, for example, claimed that doctors recommend that brand of cigarettes over all others. This doctor “endorsement” suggested that Camels were somewhat healthy to smoke, similar to how e-cigarette companies falsely proclaim that their products are a healthier alternative to other cigarettes.
Likewise, cigarette companies have been trying to hook new, young customers on their deadly products for decades. Although the minimum age to purchase cigarettes and e-cigarettes is slowly being changed from 18 to 21 across the country, nearly all lifelong smokers begin before they are 18. In addition to traditional marketing strategies geared toward teens, e-cigarette companies have even begun offering college scholarships to create positive connotations between their brands and impressionable high school students.
While the CDC continues its investigation into the vaping illnesses, and JUUL continues to fight off an ever-growing number of proposed bans, sales restrictions and lawsuits, it is imperative that consumers stop vaping.
About the author:
Amelia Harris is a writer and eco-activist, interested in health and all things esoteric, with a passion for sharing good news and inspiring stories. She is a staff writer for Wake Up World.