Every so often in class, I’ll notice a fellow student tilt their head down, pull their shirt collar above their nose, pause for a few seconds and then regain their posture. The first few times I saw this happen in 2018, I thought, “Huh, the cold must be going around, and no one informed me of this new cough-blocking etiquette.”
Eventually, I noticed every student who blocked a cough with their shirt collar or the opening of their long-sleeve, they had a USB in tow. How odd? Don’t we all have online drives?
Admittedly, I am a goody two-shoes — and maybe a bit out of touch — so you can imagine how shocked I was to discover that my peers were bringing back the newer and cooler version of a cigarette, the JUUL. These new e-cigarettes tend to use deceptive practices to lure young people in, profiting off of our ill-informed, dangerous habits.
If you attended a Mississippi elementary school over the past 20 years, you probably have a vague memory of a giant, beady-eyed rat mascot named Terrance begging you to join his RAT (Reject All Tobacco) pack. If you’re like me, you probably only remember being terrified of the mutant Chuck E. Cheese but also excited to grow up and never touch a cigarette. As silly as the RAT campaign appears in hindsight, there’s evidence it worked. From 1998, when the RAT campaign started, to 2013, smoking rates among Mississippi middle schoolers fell by 75%. That was before JUUL launched.
A few years ago, I knew almost no one who messed with nicotine. Now, it’s rare for me to go a day without seeing one of my friends sneak in a puff of mango-flavored nicotine vapor.
This problem extends beyond our university. In recent weeks, hundreds of young people across the U.S. have been hospitalized, and at least five have died as a result of a vaping-related illnesses.
It is tempting to point fingers at young vapers, but please, reader, be empathetic. Keep in mind that the rat only asked us not to smoke cigarettes. JUULs were not in the contract.
I cannot blame users for starting this dangerous habit. Big businesses are culpable. JUUL told us vaping is a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.
They lied to us. Now, they are facing possible legal challenges from the FDA.
There is a common misconception that the vaping industry will smother the tobacco industry. In reality, Altria, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the U.S., spent $12.8 billion to purchase 35% of JUUL’s stock in 2018. When the vaping industry profits, so does the tobacco industry.
Vaping companies, like JUUL, have spent millions of dollars on advertising to make vaping seem with-it. We were told lies, and now young people are dying, and big businesses are profiting.
They’ve spent millions more to lobby politicians of all stripes. If vaping companies really believe their products can be used to help people crack their cigarette addiction, why don’t they support legislation to make e-cigarettes available only by prescription?
Wednesday, the president and other federal agencies offered warnings against vaping and floated the possibility of banning such devices all together. I applaud the federal government for taking these steps, and I hope they will take every legal action against the vaping industry.
While the vaping industry is culpable for their unethical, and potentially illegal, advertising practices, I also understand personal responsibility cannot be totally ignored. That is why I invite the rat to visit The University of Mississippi to help our students make informed decisions about vaping.
Wesley Craft is a senior public policy leadership major from Raleigh, Mississippi.