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.