The politics of vaping: Promoting one addiction over another


E-cigarettes and vaping devices were initially marketed as smoking cessation devices. The logic being that if a person smokes an e-cigarette instead of a traditional, tobacco leaf-burning cigarette, he or she stands a better chance of quitting smoking because e-cigarettes were originally advertised as not habit forming. E-cigarettes were also promoted as being less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they contain fewer chemicals and emit water vapor instead of smoke.

In contrast, the California Department of Health released a report last January that debunks the major marketing strategies behind e-cigarettes and vaping devices. The first claim is e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. According to the report, there is no evidence, other than anecdotal, that e-cigarettes are a proven smoking cessation device. A related marketing stratagem is that e-cigarettes are not addictive. According to the study, 89 percent of e-cigarette users still smoke a year after starting.

A toxic mix: What’s in e-cigs

E-cigarette aerosol contains nicotine. As everyone knows, nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals on the planet. Some reports compare nicotine’s addictive power to that of heroin. In addition to nicotine, e-cigarette aerosol also contains cadmium, formaldehyde, isoprene, lead, nickel, N nitrosonornicotine and toluene. There is also evidence that e-cigarette aerosol contains propylene glycol and higher levels of other toxicants including heavy metals and silicate nanoparticles which are present in traditional cigarettes. This chemical cocktail was not concocted by chance. Reportedly, these chemicals give the user a gentle buzz and the other pleasant sensations associated with traditional cigarette use. They also keep the user coming back for more.

Teenagers and e-cigarettes

Another problem that has also come up in the discussion on e-cigarettes is their use among teens. The following statistics come directly from the California Department of Health report on e-cigarette usage:

  • In 2014, for the first time, teen use of e-cigarettes surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes.
  • Among 8th and 10th graders, current e-cigarette use was double that of traditional cigarettes.
  • E-cigarette use tripled among high school students, increasing from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 4.5 percent in 2013.
  • More than a quarter million youth who had never smoked a traditional cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, a three-fold increase since 2011.

All of which begs the question: why is a smoking cessation device increasing the ranks of smokers?

E-cigarettes come in an array of flavors with exotic names such as: super fly lemon pie, watermelon slush and candy apple red. These come in a liquid which is heated by the cigarette and produces the vapor. E-cigarettes are sold in convenience stores, online and near schools. Food and Drug Administration guidelines are relatively relaxed regarding the advertising of e-cigarettes, affording marketing campaigns unfettered access to a prime demographic—young smokers. Up to 73 percent of 12-17 year olds have been exposed to e-cigarette advertising from Blu, the most heavily advertised e-cigarette brand.

Sophisticated marketing campaigns combined claims these devices are somehow healthy with hip advertising that demonized traditional cigarette use. Many merchants have found a niche market by expanding tattoo parlors to include vaping products. E-cigarette lobbyists have besieged Capitol Hill with promises of a safe and lucrative alternative to smoking. And as the above numbers attest, their efforts appear successful.

The teenage brain: ripe for addiction

One doctor illuminates the teen brain being disposed to addiction, as its vulnerable during development. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., describes how seriously parents need to steer their teen from any addiction. He says the adolescent years are not a time of immaturity, but are rather   a time of brain remodeling. “This remodeling includes a change in the dopamine system. But this dopamine shift, unfortunately, makes it so that the adolescent is at risk of anything that could be addictive, because addiction involves the release and then the entrainment of the dopamine system. This explains the finding that if you’re going to get addicted to something, it’s most likely to happen during adolescence.”

The good news is smoking, like other addictions, is a treatable.

White River Academy is a residential boarding school that focuses on addiction and mental health disorders in young men ages 12 to 17. White River combines challenging curricula with one-on-one counseling to help transition young men into adulthood. Our approach to healing is to treat the mind and the body.

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