Shape-shifting is often associated with mythical characters. But the Big Tobacco companies have been shape-shifting for years now, replacing the previous generations of smokers with new younger customers, by targeting them with a new kind of addictive and dangerous product. At first, many smokers from the previous generations were told that cigarettes could cure asthma, slim one’s figures and make people less agitated, while the Big Tobacco companies even had doctors help market the lethal product. While we know that is not true today, Big Tobacco has evolved, and they are coming out with new products and developing new strategies to deceive another generation.
Electronic cigarettes are specifically marketed towards the youth, whose parents and grandparents were previously marketed traditional cigarettes. Clearly, Big Tobacco companies have altered their product from combustible cigarettes to the updated electronic form, resulting in a new generation of nicotine addiction. Of course, this couldn’t be done without an arsenal of manipulative marketing strategies. Tapping into the minds of young adolescents, they paired two of the most addictive things: technology and nicotine.
At first glance, the product could easily be mistaken for a USB flash drive. With its sleek design, vaping had slipped under the radar. As a result, many parents, teachers and administrators are often unaware that children are using e-cigarettes, much less the damage children are doing to their own bodies. In addition, someone can easily use an e-cigarette without being detected, which only heightens their inconspicuous nature, appealing to the youth. Because they look and smell nothing like cigarettes, many young people don’t even know the how harmful these products can actually be.
With the thousands of flavors and sweet-smelling vapor, it’s no wonder many teens don’t think they are harmful. Mango, fruit medley and crème brulee are just a few, not to mention youth-targeted flavors like unicorn, gummy worms and cotton candy. Tobacco companies also produce advertisements with young people at parties enjoying themselves, representing the people they want to use their products. It couldn’t be more obvious that the Big Tobacco companies are hard at work replacing the previous generation of smokers with e-cigarette users.
Even more concerning is that some users don’t even know that there is nicotine in these products. A single Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. However, most Juul users do not realize that the product contains nicotine in the first place. Nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the developing brain. Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful ingredients that can hurt the respiratory system. That means that my own family members and peers could be unaware of the harmful chemical(s) they’re putting into their bodies, while electronic cigarette companies are profiting off of it.
Big Tobacco companies have deceived the public by morphing their cigarette products into e-cigarettes, not only with an advanced design, but also with an appeal towards the youth. Teenagers can be very impressionable and vulnerable, which is why Big Tobacco companies capitalize on our weaknesses to market a new and lethal product to us. As a member of NYC Smoke-Free’s Reality Check program, I am working with teens all across the State to help expose the tobacco industry and reduce the number of teens that initiate smoking. The time has come for us to fight back with education, advocacy and whatever is required to protect the next generation from falling prey to this deadly addiction.
Athena Kotsopriftis is a rising senior at School of the Future.