Author: Jessie Gregson-Williams

The Dangers of E-Cigarette Marketing: The Fight to Protect Our Youth

It comes as no surprise that children are heavily influenced by the social makeup of their environment, especially as they enter adolescence. Today, parents face a particularly unique fear with peer pressure: the fear that their children will develop an addiction to nicotine. Peer pressure is a contributing factor influencing children to pick up an e-cigarette, or vape, for the first time. Additionally, there is a plethora of marketing tactics purposefully utilized by e-cigarette manufacturers that influence America’s youth to buy these products. Some of these tactics include emotional appeal, targeted advertisements, social media, and even “fun” flavors and colors. In fact, the original tactics used by the tobacco industry (“Big Tobacco”) are so effective that many e-cigarette manufacturers have taken over the exact same trade secrets to advertise their products. For example, e-cigarette companies have been known to implement emotional appeal to attract teens to their products, including portraying friendship, happiness, sex, and success.

Perhaps even more alarming is the success the vaping industry has seen in using colorful, eye-catching packaging full of cartoon characters and sweet flavors. These advertisements directly target adolescents and appeal to children’s affinity to candy. Further, e-cigarette companies have found massive success in marketing to teens through social media platforms. The use of fun flavors, prestigious celebrities, and persistent marketing on youth dominated apps all exert influence on viewers’ decision to vape. Notably, this past September of 2022, Juul Labs Inc. reached a settlement agreement to pay $438.5 million to thirty-three states to resolve claims that it marketed addictive products to children. The agreement now prohibits Juul from marketing to youth and even bans advertisements featuring cartoons or anyone under thirty-five years old—but what about the rest of the manufacturers?

In 2020, likely in response to the growing fear by concerned parents, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) began requiring all e-cigarette products to apply for and receive regulatory approval. This announcement led to nearly 8 million applications by distributors and manufacturers. Given the length of the approval process, regulatory delays by FDA have allowed for the e-cigarette products to stay on the market for years while waiting for review and authorization, further paving the way for the youth vape epidemic America faces today. Over two years after the established FDA requirement, the review process is ongoing and flavored vapes are still widely available on the market.

While FDA sorts out its administrative delays, families are filing personal injury suits against e-cigarette manufacturers. Juul currently has a number of pending lawsuits filed against it in relation to severe lung conditions, stroke, seizures, and nicotine addiction. These claims are made possible through product liability, which holds a manufacturer, distributor, or seller of a dangerous product financially liable for injuries caused by their defective product. Although legal success is possible, this litigation can be a time-consuming and expensive way to reach justice for those injured without addressing the initial problem of vape accessibility among the youth.

Perhaps the best solution here lies in implementing stringent regulations at the federal level, which would preempt any loose state laws. Policymakers should aim to halt children and teens’ access to vapes while maintaining other effective ways for adults to quit smoking. The youth of America deserve to be protected from this kind of harmful marketing that can detrimentally impact their health and their future as a whole. In the modern age of technology, marketing influence is practically inescapable. Thus, legislators and policymakers alike should step in and assist FDA to protect American youth now before it is too late.

The War on Sugar

Every few decades there is a shift in diet culture. Currently, we are experiencing the war on sugar as consumers become increasingly aware of the growing overconsumption of sugar and the risks associated with it. As a result, high-intensity sweeteners are now a common alternative to ordinary sugar that make up little to no calories when added to food or drink, creating desirability for those attempting a calorie deficit. These sweeteners are frequently used in beverages or foods marketed as “diet” or “sugar-free.” Research from 2019 shows a whopping two-thirds of Americans were attempting to limit their sugar intake. In efforts to keep up with these trends, the food industry had to begin adjusting the contents of their products while adhering to the Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) regulations.

Among the high-intensity sweeteners on the market are saccharin and aspartame. Both are chemical formulas used as food additives to produce an intensely sweet flavor without the calories of sugar; notably, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Both saccharin and aspartame are currently approved and regulated by the FDA. High-intensity sweeteners are regulated as a food additive, unless its use is generally recognized as safe (such as stevia leaf). Before a food additive can be used in food and marketed as such, it must undergo premarket review and obtain approval by the FDA. During the premarket review of the current high-intensity sweeteners permitted for use, the FDA established an acceptable daily intake level (“ADI”) for each of the sweeteners. The FDA has included a chart on its website showing the number of tabletop sweetener packets a 132 pound individual would need to consume to reach the ADI: 75 packets of aspartame and 45 packets of saccharin. The FDA also claims that even for consumers whose daily consumption of a sweetener is high, it generally does not present safety concerns if it is still less than the ADI.

Yet, the question remains for consumers conscious about their health but with a persistent sweet tooth: should I be choosing products with sugar or artificial sweetener? This complex question is best answered by comparing Diet Coca-Cola (“Diet Coke”) to regular Coca-Cola (“Coke”). Diet Coke contains artificial high-intensity sweeteners, including aspartame, while regular Coke contains traditional sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. However, high consumption of both Diet Coke and regular Coke may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other health problems. The question is not “which version of sweetener is better for you,” but “which version of sweetener is less bad for you.” A can of Coke contains 39g of sugar, which amounts to about 7 teaspoons of sugar. The FDA suggests a Daily Value of 50 grams per day for added sugars based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Thus, drinking a Coke will make up 78% of one’s suggested daily added sugar intake. Contrary to what many believe, Diet Coke (although containing 0g of sugar) may still present similar health issues as regular coke, such as a spike in blood sugar caused by its artificial sweeteners. Spikes in blood sugar have been linked to heart problems, type-2 diabetes, weight gain and the other various health problems commonly associated with traditional sugar intake.

Overall, the convoluted truth is that western diet trends heavily influence how products are presented in the media and then marketed to the public. Evidently, there is a surprising lack of concrete scientific evidence to heavily sway individuals in one direction or another in terms of choosing high-intensity sweeteners over classic sugar. Remarkably, the one consensus is that neither of the two are particularly “good” for health as both are addictive and stimulate the brain in a similar fashion. In sum, moderation is key as consuming excess amounts of either sugar or artificial sweeteners can be cause for concern. It is important not to blindly follow the intentional marketing of “diet” or “zero sugar” products without doing further research on what exactly is replacing that sweet flavor. But, to avoid the issue altogether, perhaps opt for a sparkling water sweetened naturally with fruits instead of deciding between a diet or regular Coke.