Big Tobacco’s Little Brother: E-Cigarettes Are Causing Casualties

The market for vaping has been vast and diverse, but the reality of this technology is quite simple: it is killing people and causing addictions.

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Last volume, the Ram’s Executive Board cracked down on vaping. A year later, its message still resonates. The public is just beginning to see the palpable medical ramifications of e-cigarette usage, and young people are beginning to suffer from them.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the outbreak of lung illnesses linked to vaping grew by more than 200 cases in a week, now totaling 1,299. Twenty-nine people have died from vaping-related illnesses, the youngest being a 17-year-old boy in the Bronx on Oct. 4, according to health officials. 

Federal and state health authorities are currently testing vaping materials and studying tissue samples from patients in an effort to find the cause of the outbreak, but the only authoritative advice officials can offer at the moment is to avoid vaping entirely. The CDC is identifying the illness as EVALI, meaning “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.”

For heavy users, strong anti-vapers and everyone in between, this news proves terrifying. 

The exponential rate at which Americans are experiencing the ramifications of what essentially proves to be a revival of Big Tobacco is both alarming and infuriating. 

Some e-cigarette businesses might have begun with good intentions. Many companies present vaping materials as cheaper, healthier alternatives to cigarettes or as a way to wean off smoking altogether. Individuals have seen e-cigarette technology as a newer, safer vehicle through which to access the same old nicotine without any of the medical threats cigarettes.

However, some who made the switch have not only failed to kick their nicotine habit but have instead increased the amount they smoke due to the convenience and discretion of vaping materials. In situations where cigarettes previously proved inappropriate or inconvenient, e-cigarettes now fit in seamlessly.  

More recently, people have started to view vaping as a way to enhance one’s social image. Young people are using e-cigarettes at alarming rates — teen usage has doubled since 2017, according to the National Insitute on Drug Abuse — and the cultural phenomenon continues to thrive.    

Companies might have intended for their products to be used for purely alternative means, but these materials have taken on a life of their own in the public sphere. Yet, instead of effectively redirecting marketing efforts or product sales to align with their initial, utilitarian missions, bigger businesses have chosen to follow the revenue stream.

For example, many businesses do not offer step programs or subscription boxes that include increasingly lower amounts of nicotine each delivery. Instead, corporations are continually spoon-feeding vaping technology to the public in newer, sleeker and rebranded ways to newer, younger and more susceptible consumers.

Much of the e-cigarette presence in our culture is directly impacting today’s youth. Enticing flavors, targeted social media campaigns and monetary scholarships for people under age 18 directly reach young consumers. These individuals — who, for all the efforts of their former generations, are extremely unlikely to have been smoking cigarettes in the first place — do not fall under the claimed category of current smokers seeking a “better experience.”

Similarly, many young people have forayed into the extensive world of vaping for marijuana-inspired purposes. Though individuals suffering from EVALI did not all vape THC — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects — federal and state health authorities are particularly concerned about the large amount of illicit THC products in circulation, as they contain unknown mixtures of solvents, diluting agents and flavorings that may be toxic to the lungs.

The market for vaping has been vast and diverse, but the reality of this technology is quite simple: it is killing people and causing addictions. The same justified panic made widespread in the past by a variety of different organizations, non-profits and government agencies in regards to the dangers of cigarette smoking must be put in place for the dangers of vaping. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes is a well-intentioned place to start. 

People have come to naturally associate the smoking of cigarettes with cancer, lung disease and other related illnesses because of both palpable medical evidence and countless anti-smoking campaign efforts. 

For such effective and important work to be undermined by new companies striving for capital gain at the expense of public health is a visceral slap in the face: to those who have suffered at the hands of Big Tobacco’s manipulation, to the people who worked tirelessly on exposing such manipulation and attempting to prevent it again in the future, to the consumers whose well-being is intentionally disregarded.

The long-term effects of e-cigarettes were relatively incalculable at the time of vaping’s cultural debut. It is entirely possible that many businesses did not understand the extent of their products’ potential medical dangers at the beginning of these ventures. 

However, e-cigarette companies’ blatant efforts to attract new and younger markets through deceptive means are completely inexcusable, and to continue to profit off of a market built around an addiction that is inherently harmful is entirely unethical. 

The public is again suffering massively from the same epidemic – caused by the same corporate greed and ingenuity – that it had come so close to eradicating just a few years ago. We fought against Big Tobacco once, and now we must instigate yet another family feud.