Tobacco Companies Target Youth by Making E-Cigarettes Seem Sexy
In the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health was released, public health advocates have made great strides in reducing and preventing tobacco use. The Marlboro man was bounced from the airwaves, comprehensive smoking bans were passed in hundreds of cities and 28 states, and smoking rates were cut almost in half. While there is still much work to be done—tobacco is still a leading cause of death, and disproportionately affects low income communities and communities of color—we’re now reaping the rewards, with eight million lives saved over the past half-century.
But now a new threat is emerging. The use of e-cigarettes is rising rapidly, with teenagers a key target of marketing efforts. Tobacco companies are trying to make “vaping” acceptable—even glamourous—once again, putting e-cigarette commercials back on the airwaves for the first time since the 1970s.
The companies argue that “vaping” is safer than traditional smoking and that may or may not be true—there are 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.
In our latest Forbes blog, Prevention Institute’s Sarah Mittermaier, Lily Swartz and Rob Waters explore what’s at stake for public health as e-cigarettes make their way onto the market and into the mainstream, targeting youth and bringing smoking back into the public eye. They write:
E-cigarettes also threaten to reintroduce smoking to workplaces, restaurants, bars and other public spaces where hard-fought public health campaigns have succeeded in banning cigarettes. These policies have changed our communities from the ground up, creating new expectations and norms around smoking. The science is still out on whether e-cigarettes threaten non-smokers with toxic exposure, but their use in public legitimizes their use, making them seem acceptable, even glamorous. We can’t let e-cigarettes undo the hard work tobacco control advocates have achieved over the past 50 years.
Some cities and states are pushing back, taking steps to regulate the sale and public use of e-cigarettes. And attorneys general from 40 states have called on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, a move that would give the FDA the power to impose age restrictions and limit marketing of e-cigarettes.
Read the full piece in Forbes here.