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E-Cigarette Marketing Targets Kids with Candy Flavors

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The debate over e-cigarettes continues to rage as researchers look at the pros of ‘vaping’, a possible reduction in tobacco consumption and the cons—use by teens.

What do the flavors mango, gummi bears and cotton candy have in common? They are some of the candy flavors being used by e-cigarette makers to lure in kids. The original rationale behind e-cigs was to create a product for people trying to stop smoking traditional tobacco products.  Not lure children into the smoking culture.

Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but not the damaging tar found in tobacco products. A few of the studies show a reduction in tobacco usage by people using e-cigs. That’s the good news. The alarming news comes from a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showing that in 2012 ten percent of high school students reported trying an e-cigarette. That’s up from 5 percent in 2011. But 7 percent of those who tried e-cigarettes said they had never smoked a traditional cigarette. And this is where the ‘benefit’ of e-cigs comes into question. Are our youth going to be introduced to traditional cigarettes because they have started using e-cigs and getting a small, but significant amount of nicotine? Is the e-cig going to become a gateway drug?

“Altogether, in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes.”   In other words, there are children ranging in age from 10-14 who are smoking e -cigarettes. This feels like a reversal in the progress made through decades of anti-smoking campaigns that reduced teen smoking by 45%. The new e-cigarrette trend makes it possible for kids to get products much more easily than acquiring traditional cigarettes. According to the story on NPR, kids are going to online stores, like e-Bay, to purchase e-cigs.

“Our target customer base is those people who felt doomed to a life of smoking,” says Geoff Braithwaite, who owns Tasty Vapor, a company in Oakland that sells and distributes liquids for e-cigarettes. But he admits that adults aren’t the only ones who may be jumping on this new trend.  Clearly the evidence shows he’s right. And, we have to assume that manufacturers are targeting kids. If the target audience were strictly adult would not the flavors be closer to bourbon, dry martini or black licorice rather than cotton candy and gummi bear flavors?

The NPR story, Candy Flavors Put E-Cigarette On Kids’ Menu, was produced by Youth Radio. One of the girls interviewed was Marleny Samayoa, an 8th grader in San Francisco, “A lot of kids are getting them online,” Marleny explains. “And they’re just introducing it to a lot of other kids, and it just keeps going from there.  Marleny also commented on the increase in images of e-cigs on social media sites like Instagram. “I take pictures and do tricks, like blowing O’s,” Marleny says, “blowing them on flat surfaces and making tornadoes.”  (NPR.org, 2/17/14)

We have decades of research on cigarettes. It took years to get enough solid research to document the damage of tobacco usage; how long will it take to definitively show health risks of e-cigs? The manufacturers are claiming their products are safer than traditional tobacco products and that may be true. How much safer? And, what other potential health risks are our children being subjected to by this cool new trend of e-cigarette smoking?   Will e-cigs eventually be subject to some sort of federal regulation, and should they?  All interesting questions, which show that history apparently does repeat itself.  

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  1. Pupmastermp3 says:
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    No one under the legal smoking age should ever use an electronic cigarette. Adults that do not smoke should not use an electronic cigarette. I was a smoker for 27 years. I made many attempts to quit during that time. I used the patch, the gum, the lozenge, and will power. On December 17, 2010 I purchased an electronic cigarette and I have been a non smoker since that very first puff. My health has improved as well. I no longer suffer from sinus infections, ear infections or the constant chest congestion I became used to having. I can climb many flights of stairs without getting winded as well. I believe if it were not for the electronic cigarette, I would have been a smoker for the rest of my life. I have seen 100’s of people in my own community switch from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes with the same results.
    As to the idea that they are marketed to kids because of the colors and flavors and only kids would want that, I would direct you to the alcohol isle at most super markets where you can purchase birthday cake vodka. I would also send you to the Apple store where you can buy your new Iphone in many vibrant colors. Then there are the flavored coffee creamers like White Chocolate Raspberry, and even Girl Scout Cookie. Adults like flavors and colors. Are Coffee Mate and International Delight marketing to kids? I doubt it.

    I also doubt that kids will go from attractive flavors like gummy bear and fruity pebbles to the flavor of burning tobacco and paper as it tastes horrible.

    Also in a study to examine the hypothesis that electronic cigarettes are a gateway for youth to become addicted to cigarettes, Dr. Ted Wagener from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center reports being able to find only one young person who initiated nicotine use with e-cigarettes and then went on to smoke cigarettes, out of a sample of 1,300 college students.