But now a new threat is emerging. The use of e-cigarettes is rising rapidly, with teenagers a key target of marketing efforts. “Vaping” is making smoking acceptable—even cool—once again as the tobacco industry returns to its old ways, putting e-cigarette commercials back on the airwaves for the first time since the 1970s.
Right now, e-cigarettes exist in what tobacco control researcher Stanton Glanz calls a regulatory “Wild West,” with no federal regulation of the manufacturing, marketing and sales of these products. This regulatory vacuum threatens to undo the hard-won victories of the past 50 years in tobacco control.
E-cigarette companies are taking a page right out of Big Tobacco’s old-school playbook: marketing their products with sex appeal, celebrity endorsements, even cartoons. The companies argue that “vaping” is safer than traditional smoking and that may or may not be true—there are far too few studies to back up that claim or refute it. But it’s also a smokescreen.
The tobacco industry is out to hook kids, and it’s working. E-cigarettes come in an array of kid-friendly flavors, from“Cherry Crush” to “Coca Cola.” And unlike conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes can legally be sold to kids in most US states. Data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that e-cigarette use more than doubled among middle and high school students in the previous year. For 20 percent of the middle schoolers, e-cigarettes were their first experience with smoking, raising concerns that e-cigarettes may act as a gateway to the use of other tobacco products.