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Vaping isn’t for kids, so don’t market it to them

When I was young, it seemed that every year, kids were becoming “young adults” at an earlier and earlier age.

Adults marveled at how much sooner their children were achieving adult levels of knowledge and judgment than they had, and it appeared that the trappings of legal maturity would be conferred upon ever younger generations as we bravely ventured into the bright future the 1980s promised.

Marketers began to realize the increased decision-making power of young people in their households and responded accordingly. Advertising for children’s products stopped being directed at parents and was piped directly to us — on our cereal boxes, in our schools and on our television shows.

But something changed along the way, and young people went from being valuable consumers to valuable “future adult” consumers. It was all well and good to convince children that they needed a product, so they could convince their parents, but it was a whole different thing to “plant a seed” of consumer desire in children as early as you could for an age-restricted product, counting on them becoming paying customers at their earliest opportunity. After all, children are constantly looking around for examples of the kind of adult they want to be — and when these “model” adults undertake the use of risky products, many of the children who see them will include these products as a part of their adult identity.

In a much simpler time, the most threatening advertising to children was putting a kid-friendly face on a non-kid-friendly thing; like cartoon mascots for alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications. Of course, when you got to the product, it was still just as adult and unappealing as ever.

I will never forget the first time I tasted beer, in sixth grade at age 12. Of course, I was aware of what beer was. Popular brands dominated much of the advertising I consumed, even “family-friendly” prime time network television, and it was omnipresent in adult life, around me.

At a neighborhood barbecue, I reached for my Coke and accidentally grabbed a Miller Lite can, and before I realized it, I had taken a drink. My reaction was surprised revulsion. I didn’t even try drinking another one for four years, and much to the chagrin of my microbrew-loving friends, I still don’t like them, today. 

But the beer of my youth gave way to wine coolers and malt liquor beverages that tasted a lot more like the soda and other sweet drinks I grew up loving. Had the can I reached for back at 12 had a hard lemonade in it, my adolescent years may have been a lot different.

This is the problem posed by tobacco vaping brands like Juul, and their meteoric success among minors. According to, as of 2017, there were more than 15,500 unique e-cigarette flavors available online, and an earlier study found that among the more than 400 brands available online in 2014, 84% offered fruit flavors and 80% offered candy and dessert flavors.

As I am aware of precisely zero fans of secondary smoke, I know it’s generally not the flavor of tobacco that gives it its appeal, especially to children. It’s the “cool” that used to draw kids — and marketers knew it. The Marlboro Man may be the most enduring and iconic American model of “cool,” ever, and consummate “cool guys” in movies have been smoking since long before I started watching movies.

Kids will always endeavor to be grown up, but we can and should avoid attempts to accelerate that process. To that end, making deadly and addictive things in flavors that appeal to children is wrong. 

It’s time to hold tobacco vaping companies accountable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4.9 million middle and high school students reported current tobacco product use in 2018, and the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 81% of youths who have used tobacco products initiated that use with a flavored product. 

What’s more, recent peer-reviewed studies have shown that around three-quarters of current youth users would stop vaping if the flavors were discontinued. If decades of education efforts on the dangers of tobacco use were not enough, the recent epidemic of vaping-related illnesses and deaths — with over 1,000 confirmed cases and a dozen deaths — demonstrates that this isn’t just anachronistic hand-wringing but a full-blown health crisis. Uniquely, it’s one that we already know the solution for.

With that in mind, I’m not asking for vaping companies to stop making their product, or even to stop selling it to adults. We aren’t free if we aren’t free to consume what we like.

But we can stop “candying up” the cause of nearly 1 in 5 American deaths, and fueling a terrifying new youth epidemic.

Glenn Truitt is a Las Vegas attorney who specializes in health care law.

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