When will we escape the eternal cigarette?


Since the earliest days of America, in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia tobacco has played an impactful role in life. Serving as a primary source of income and a lucrative cash crop at the time, tobacco governed much of the economy and consequently the people. Nearly five hundred years later, little has changed regarding nicotine’s rule. Nicotine being: “the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking” (Mayo Clinic). The drug is still flourishing today, but it does not present itself in the same traditional sense as its forefathers. No longer is the dehydrated plant puffed by a sophisticated man in a dress hat, now the primary consumer of nicotine is alarmingly young. The archaic pipe and flame is replaced by electronic cigarettes and their matching chargers. It is disheartening to witness tobacco evolve with the demands of society, as opposed to being rendered obsolete.

As first-hand accounts of high-school bathrooms can attest, tobacco is a detrimental endemic to a predominantly underage population. Nicotine in the form of vapes is so commonplace among adolescent age groups, that a shorthand exists. Almost said as a term of endearment: nicotine is creatively abbreviated to nic. Vaping is such a common ritual that most students do not bat an eye at the sight of ten or fifteen people huddling together in a bathroom sharing a few “hits”. “11.3% (3.08 million) of middle and high school students reported current use (past 30 days) of any tobacco product” (CDC). The addictive aspect of tobacco leads those who use it to become chronic abusers: “Among current youth e-cigarette users more than one in four use… daily” (FDA). This constant preoccupation with the physical need for nicotine results in a poor set of priorities. When someone’s prime concern is with vaping, the issue becomes responsible for a drastic decline in other parts of teenagers’ everyday routine, namely success in outlets such as school. Although it is not documented that nicotine is the sole cause of this phenomenon, it is likely not a coincidence that out of all the current school-aged users,  “27.2% of those… (have) low academic achievements (Mostly F’s)” (FDA).

Due to the nature of tobacco products, those who use them are not only subjected to the time management struggles of addiction but a gamut of thoroughly investigated health effects as well. They range from, but are not limited to; cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, problems of the immune system, rheumatoid arthritis, mental health issues, anxiety, and depression. Also noted is the potentially massive harm to the unborn. Society has been aware of these side effects since, “1964, [when] the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report on the health effects of smoking. After reviewing more than 7,000 articles in the medical literature, the Surgeon General concluded that smoking caused lung cancer and bronchitis” . With that knowledge, one is bound to ask: why do people still smoke? The short answer, that many teens would offer, is that no one is addicted to cigarettes anymore, especially not themselves. That statement is largely incorrect, considering vapes and cigarettes are essentially the same product. Despite the vessels for tobacco appearing separate from one another, they have arguably congruent consequences. The intricate, more accurate answer is that large tobacco companies will never willingly release their eternal chokehold on the people. Even though the topic of the evils that exist within the big tobacco industry is one that is owed retelling time and time again, in the name of precision the extent of detail must remain brief. Both vapes and cigarettes are all owned by the same big tobacco companies. Reynolds American Incorporated is the nondescript parent company of Camels, Newports, American Spirit, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Vuse (listed as the second most popular vape brand with high-schoolers by the FDA). Ironically the website claims their “operating companies have a diverse portfolio of products” (Home Page, Reynolds America). The Reynold’s homepage is vague and mainly boasts of employees giving back to their communities, which is a morbid juxta-position to the reality that the company made, “12.5 Billion in 2016” (Reynolds, Zippia), from selling cancer to the public.  

Vapes and traditional cigarettes parallel nearly identically in marketing. Both spending billions each day to specifically target women, youth, young adults, minorities, the less-educated, members of the lgbtq+ community, and those living in low-income housing. In order to appeal to those who may be more susceptible, big tobacco has: “in the past 60 years… have handed out free cigarettes to children in housing projects, issued tobacco coupons with food stamps and explored giving away financial products like prepaid debit cards” (Why, Truth Initiative). In more recent years, they have obviously made an effort to persuade low-income neighborhoods, minorities, and the youth by facilitating, “an estimated 375,000 tobacco retailers in the U.S. — about 27 times more than McDonald’s and 28 times more than Starbucks — and they are disproportionately located in low-income communities. Low-income neighborhoods are also more likely to have tobacco retailers near schools than other neighborhoods.” (Why, Truth Initiative). Above all, none of big tobacco’s efforts to maintain their sway have been more effective than marketing vapes to teenagers. Ten or fifteen years ago e-cigs were still a novel idea, and the typical harsh smoke of a cigarette was generally unappealing to the rising generation. However, with the introduction of easy to use vapor nicotine to impressionable children, tobacco was able to make a resurgence. With this new wave, the drug could resolidify its horrible foothold in the world. 

Vapes come in a wide variety of sweet flavors, that the industry constantly flaunts to the youth. In an interview with a now twenty one year old, Julien Lavandier, he says  “(he) started vaping when he was a sophomore in high school… ‘At first,’ he says, ‘it was a lot of, you know, chasing flavors, or doing smoke tricks… I thought, “you know, this is cool, this looks like something fun.” (All Things Considered, NPR). Lavandier’s experience is like so many high schoolers today, thanks to companies like Puff Bar’s intriguing flavors. A few of which are; pineapple lemonade, cucumber, peach ice, blueberry ice, pink lemonade, sour apple, caffe latte, and watermelon. E-cig manufacturers approach commerce in the same way candy is peddled to babies, with bright colors and a childish palate. In a scramble to continue people’s reliance on their products, tobacco companies were able to crawl out of the transitional lull by doing as they always have- focusing their propaganda on any societal group that could be perceived as vulnerable.

The anomaly of smoking was once a second nature that could be done anywhere, from airplane, to restaurant, and even the school yard. Since then, there have been some sparce regulations that prevent addicts from making use of those locations, but vaping is an occurrence that can be still observed during any class period change in any public school bathroom across the country. If this article prevents just one person from inhaling a synthetic blueberry scent, as it lingers from the men’s room down the hall, it will have been a success. With that image, one is left with a influx of questions; Can we escape the eternal cigarette? Will its smoke continue to linger in our throats? Will its ashes remain falling in our laps? Will its filters still float in our beautiful seas? When will its reign end and our freedom begin? Never?