Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that 70% of middle and high school youth were exposed to e-cigarette marketing in 2014. More than half of surveyed youth said they saw the advertisements in retail stores, with online advertising not far behind. While there is limited data on youth e-cigarette use or exposure in Milwaukee, community groups and school officials report that e-cigarettes are increasingly a problem. With e-cigarettes sold at almost every corner store and several vape shops having opened in the city, there is no doubt that Milwaukee youth are being put at risk by e-cigarette marketing.
This is all much to the delight of still completely unregulated e-cigarette companies who increased their spending on marketing from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014. Their investment is clearly earning a return. In addition to formal advertising, research underway at UWM’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health suggests that youth may also be exposed to e- cigarette messaging through more informal channels on social media.
expanding their reach into the lives of young Americans and hooking a new generation on nicotine.
The more we learn about e-cigarettes, the more cause for major concern. Vaping, regardless of the device used (e.g. e-cigarettes, e-hookas, hookah pens, vape pens, vaporizers, e-cigars, and e- pipes) is more than inhaling ‘harmless water vapor’ as often claimed. E-juice often contains nicotine, which in addition to being highly addictive, also negatively affects the developing brains of adolescents. Even if products claim they are nicotine-free, there is currently no FDA regulation to ensure or enforce that this is the reality. In fact, there is no safety regulation at all of either e-juice or e-cigarette devices. In addition to nicotine, secondhand e-cigarette vapor has been found to contain heavy metals and other cancer-causing and lung damaging chemicals.
The $115 million spent on e-cigarette marketing last year has fueled a boom in e-cigarettes, and along the way, we have been fooled all over again because these marketing tactics are not new; sadly, we’ve seen it before. E-cigarettes are being sold to youth as something that will make them independent, sexy, cool, and daring. These are the same exact themes we saw in traditional cigarette advertising for decades and worked so hard to get rid of. This is tobacco all over again, only this time we have an opportunity to learn from past lessons and take early action.
The re-mainstreaming of smoking among youth, whether an e-cigarette or traditional cigarette, is a huge step backward for everyone trying to maintain a healthy place to live for our families and ourselves. For the sake of the health of our communities, we need to inform and educate the public and policy makers. We’ve come too far to let e-cigarettes become the next generation’s tobacco.