eNewsletter - July 2019

Nicotine Addiction: You Have Come a Long Way, Baby
Maurice McClain, LCPC, CADC

Cherry, vanilla, polar mint, Carolina bold, blueberry, Gold Leaf, green apple, menthol … these are some of the flavors of vape and e-cigarette juice available on the market today.

With so many sweet tastes, the target audience of e-cigarette advertisements are not established smokers looking for a step down from traditional cigarettes along the road to cessation. Instead, e-cigarette makers are creating and marketing products that entice young people to become addicted vapers or e-smokers.

Marketing of smoking-related products over time. This is not a new marketing strategy. Over the last several decades, research has shown that the corporations who produce smoking-related products have purposefully targeted specific groups of people, including adolescents and minorities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the tobacco industry historically presented a positive image of smoking within the African American community by supporting minority cultural events and institutions. In addition, tobacco companies published more advertising in African American publications, further increasing exposure to tobacco and new potential users.

A 1987 report from the National Institutes of Health found a correlation between a higher percentage of African Americans who smoke menthol cigarettes and advertisements appearing in magazines intended for African American readers. 

In 2010, the Harvard School of Public Health spoke out about a prevalence of smoking-based advertisements to a disadvantaged audience in lower income areas of Boston, despite an earlier ban of smoking promotion on airwaves and most billboards.

Where we are now. With the evolution of smoking behaviors and methods, a refreshed promotion of these items to a teenage audience is underway.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7 out of 10 teens are exposed to e-cigarette advertising, through retail, internet, television and movies, and magazine or newspaper ads. And marketers focus on connecting e-cigarette use to images and ideas that attract a youthful audience, such as sex, independence and rebellion.

Their efforts are working. In December 2018, Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared that youth e-cigarette use is an epidemic in the United States. Teen users are now more likely to smoke e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes throughout their high school careers.

Studies show that more than 30 percent of e-cigarette users will go on to become traditional smokers within six months, compared to only 8 percent of the general, nonsmoking population.

Along with this concerted effort to bring young smokers into the fold is the purposeful minimization of the long-term negative effects of vaping and e-smoking. Studies show that most teens don’t know the dangers of the chemical components they’re consuming via e-cigarettes.

Not only are teens being lured through targeted advertising, manufacturers aren’t required by law to report the ingredients used in e-cigarettes. When asked, teen responses range from not knowing the ingredients to guessing nicotine, marijuana or flavoring. According to the CDC, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can be addictive and dangerous for the developing adolescent brain.

What we can do. The conversation between parents and teens is critical to communicate the dangers of nicotine addiction and the long-term health concerns. Parents should base their talking points on facts in order to maintain trust with teens. As behavioral health providers, we can influence these conversations by providing fact-based research along with appropriate language to encourage ongoing, healthy and open dialogue. The CDC is a great resource for research, facts and family support.

Additionally, it’s important to get involved in community and education systems to support and deliver smoking prevention programs and preventive measures. Education of current and potential negative effects and consequences of e-smoking will help all teens and families make better decisions.

How to get more help. For more assistance with nicotine addiction or for consultation on a behavioral health issue, consider connecting with a certified therapist. Please call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24 hours a day at 630-305-5027 and one of our assessment professionals will be happy to assist.