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Thinking in Print: Cigarette companies have duped us — again

The year 2019 saw an explosion of warnings and health concerns over e-cigarettes that sprung up seemingly overnight. Yet, as early as 2009, the FDA was warning that e-cigs had no health regulations comparable to preexisting cigarettes and contained toxic chemicals, including some used in antifreeze.

That did not stop e-cigarette companies from taking advantage of the lacking regulations and advertising their product as being cool to a vulnerable young audience. What was meant as a healthier alternative to smoking boasted flavors like mint, Blue Raz Cotton Candy, Gummi Bear and others more likely to appeal to a young demographic.

A 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service stressed how the nicotine in e-cigarettes could cause “addiction, priming for use of other addictive substances, reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders.” 

Yet e-cigarette ads still pandered to teenagers as companies promoted their products using celebrities, sexual content and independence on television and radio to glamorize their addictive products to increase appeal.

It worked. Vaping is now seen as an epidemic among American youth, with “1 in 4 high schoolers and 1 in 10 middle schoolers reporting vaping use.”

But shaping public reception to buy a deadly product is nothing new to the cigarette industry. Studies suggested that cigarettes had negative health effects as early as the 1920s that were all but confirmed by the 50s, yet cigarettes were still given to military troops for free in World War II and advertisements painted cigarettes as a staple in American culture.

Take the Virginia Slims cigarette commercials of the ’60s that capitalized on the Women’s Rights movement. The ads featured women being shamed by their overbearing husbands for smoking before cutting to an independent smoking woman with the lyrics of “you’ve come a long way baby….you’ve got your own cigarette now, baby” to link women smoking with equality. If you do not smoke Virginia Slims — you hate Women’s Rights!

Cigarette companies created a storm of propaganda that hooked the unsuspecting consumer with cigarettes then and e-cigarettes now — and no amount of lawsuits will make up for the lives ruined and financial backing addicts will supply for years. We’ve been duped — again. 

Charlene Pepiot is a junior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her @cp872117@ohio.edu

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