In the mid-1990s, our newspaper group was honored in consecutive years by the Massachusetts branch of the American Cancer Society for our reporting and editorials regarding the regulation of tobacco products in our local communities. We wrote about every aspect of the tobacco industry, from the insidious means by which the tobacco companies were pushing their products with advertising geared toward young people, to taking to task local authorities who were not doing as much as they could have (by means of ordinances limiting smoking in public places) in order to prevent young people from becoming the future tobacco addicts of America.
This exact week in 1999, we editorialized in favor of a state law to ban smoking in restaurants.
So it was with a great deal of personal satisfaction that we took some degree of pride in what seemed to be the vanquishing of a foe — the tobacco lobby — that for generations in this country had reigned with impunity and that had seemed invincible until there finally were laws enacted throughout the country limiting the sale and use of tobacco beginning in the mid-2000s.
Shortly after these laws went into effect, teenage cigarette smoking rates began to decline precipitously and smoking in public became an anathema.
Big Tobacco had been defeated.
Or so it seemed.
But like one of those horror-film swamp creatures that becomes resurrected in even more ominous form when exposed to seemingly deadly radiation, Big Tobacco is back — and in a big way — thanks to the new, so-called e-cigarettes.
A recent article in the New York Times put it this way, “Although teen cigarette smoking rates have fallen below five percent, America is now contending with an epidemic of young people using e-cigs, vapes, and other ‘nicotine delivery devices,’ as the tobacco industry christened them years ago in secret memos, searching for an official alternative to describing their products as cigarettes.”
Nicotine is considered by some to be the most addictive substance, legal or otherwise, known to man. In previous generations, teen smokers, encouraged by images of James Dean with a cigarette hanging from his lips, became lifetime smokers, assuring Big Tobacco of a steady stream of income ad infinitum.
Teens once again have become the target consumer group for Big Tobacco, a dangerous trend on many levels. According to one study, the effects of teens using these new products are dramatic and significant: “For a teen, becoming nicotine-addicted greatly increases the likelihood that they will graduate to traditional, combustible cigarettes. Importantly, nicotine addiction during adolescence increases the vulnerability to subsequent addictions, like opioids or cocaine. For most users of illicit drugs, their initial addiction was to nicotine.”
More ominously, the use of these new products, known ubiquitously as juuling, delivers as much nictone in one pod as 200 cigarettes, all but assuring users of a fast-track to addiction.
The bottom line is that Big Tobacco (which owns or controls all of the largest of these e-cigarette companies) has found a 21st century means by which to hook a new generation of future tobacco addicts.
Parents have to take a watchful eye to make sure their children are not using these products and society needs new laws to ensure that these products cannot be sold to those under the age of 21. Big Tobacco is back — and we need to take action immediately.