Teens inundated with e-cigarette ads, which pay off for Big Tobacco

ecig infographic-a_920pxHere’s a disturbing trend: Teenagers are getting inundated with advertisements touting electronic or so-called e-cigarettes.  Health authorities at the same time note that “vaping” is a growing way for millions to take in harmful nicotine and other substances.

Almost 7 in 10 10 youths were exposed to manufacturers’ tidal wave of e-cigarette ads, which are broadcast, carried online, and printed in publications and made visible in retail store displays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC added that it had found that 2.6 million teens were e-cigarette users (vapers) in the last month, and those consumption numbers were likely to grow due to the extensive advertisements.

After years of battling regular cigarette use, officials expressed dismay about vaping and its saturation promotion to habituate young people so early and often. The CDC’s chief said this: “It’s the Wild West out there when it comes to e-cigarette advertising. It’s no coincidence that as the advertising has skyrocketed, the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed.”

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, e-cigarette makers now are unconstrained as to where and how they can advertise — they don’t operate under the tight regulations that officials imposed on Big Tobacco after decades of sound science and hard public policy work proved the dangers of smoking and its links to cancer and heart disease. The e-cigarette ads pitch the young with themes of independence, rebellion, and sex.

Although e-cigarette makers insisted that their ads were aimed at an only slighter older consumers (those 18 to 29), research shows just how powerful and persuasive product promotion can be in addicting users. Tobacco companies, for example, have taken to creating big displays or “power walls” in the cash-register areas of convenience stores frequented by the young; when researchers moved these displays to less prominent locales within the stores, tobacco purchases decreased sharply.

I’ve written recently on how big a bane smoking and vaping can be for our health. Don’t be misled: many of the big players in e-cigarettes are familiar bad actors from Big Tobacco. As I have noted, studies are showing that e-cigarettes don’t provide a good way to quit tobacco use. Besides nicotine, which has been shown to be an addictive, unhealthful substance to take in, unregulated vaping liquids can contain harmful chemicals that neither makers nor users may be aware of. The colorful devices and solutions also can be harmful to children, who mistake them for candy.

Here’s hoping that, if you are a smoker, you resolve to give it up in 2016. And for all adults, we need to support health officials as they and we help our kids  be smart about vaping and its advertising so we don’t see another generation hooked on a horrible habit.

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