By Allison Weaver
Advertised as a new, healthier and more modern “smoking experience,” vape fever swept the nation. Now, the nation’s youth are paying the price.
That’s according to the Kauffman Museum’s Vapes: Marketing an Addiction details, among other things, the “emergence of the e-cigarette in the 21st century and new marketing strategies.”
E-cigarette manufacturers have, since their patent in 2003, focused their attention on the youth demographic in several ways.
The creation of an outsider culture through slang, smoke tricks and competitions inspired influencers to pick up the habit. A rise in the use of social media by teens and young adults meant advertisements and smoking influencers on those platforms reached that demographic almost exclusively.
Flavors such as banana ice and chocolate milk appeal to young adults who may not like the flavor of tobacco and target children coming of age. These flavors, in the form of cartridge e-cigarettes, are among the most popular used by high school students.
In a reflection of that marketing strategy and the products’ popularity, a U.S. Food and Drug Association ban on flavored cartridge e-cigarette products passed in January 2020.
Additionally, former President Trump signed federal legislation in 2019 upping the nicotine use age from 18 to 21, making the products inaccessible to high school students.
The ban’s impact on local businesses is still developing.
Some stores, like the local August 8 Vapes, haven’t seen much of a change at all.
“When I bought this shop, what, in 2017, I had a rule for my shop that you had to be 21 to purchase. I had seen other places do it on the coast and I just felt like that would be the most responsible to do,” said shop owner Zach Dillon.
Dillon emphasized the importance of using vaping as a “harm reduction,” rather than a way of beginning a nicotine habit.
“I myself, I’ve smoked since I was 18, technically 17, and the only thing that got me off cigarettes was vaping,” said Dillon.
Without prior cigarette habits, “you don’t need to get into vaping. It’s not for you, you don’t want to get into that. Anytime you put something into your lungs is dangerous, Heck, even the air we breathe has some negative side effects to it, unfortunately,” said Dillon.
Creeping into all settings, rural and urban, the e-cigarette epidemic among young adults in Newton is no exception.
“We have been seeing this problem in Newton High School and it is everywhere…. Any change that can help stop someone from getting addicted to nicotine is a good change,” said Eli Redington, the 2019 president of STAND. This quote, and STAND’s story, is on display at the Kauffman Museum.
STAND, a student-led group advocating for healthy behaviors, is still active in Newton High School.
On a more individual level, several different vapers declined to comment when asked about their preferred products, flavors and habits. The stigma around vaping, especially in the context of young adults, kept sources from candidly discussing their habits.
At the end of the day, “[Vaping is] for adults, it should only be used by adults,” said Dillon.