The Next Tobacco Epidemic is Here


The Food and Drug Administration issued a serious warning earlier this month for makers of Juul and other e-cigarettes that produce nicotine-packed products, which are popular with teens.

Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said in a statement that his agency has seen “clear signs” that use of vaping devices has reached an “epidemic proportion.” Of specific concern are tobacco products flavored to resemble “kid-friendly” foods, the agency said.

According to “Generation Nation,” a wide-ranging study of Americans, a significant decline in cigarette use among Gen Z and Millennials needs to be tempered because of the rising popularity of e-cigarettes. According to the not-for-profit group Truth Initiative, 23% of teenagers smoked cigarettes in 2000. That number has dropped to 5% in 2017. As early as 2015, e-cigarette use among middle and high-school students topped that of cigarette use.

“It’s really scary. Despite the impressive success, due in great part to Truth’s and others’ efforts in lowering youth usage of cigarettes, the new tobacco delivery devices are taking a significant toll,” said Michael Wood, lead researcher for “Generation Nation.”

“New, youth-appealing and highly addictive e-cigarette products are appearing in market at a record pace,” stated Robin Koval, President and CEO of Truth Initiative. “We have learned the hard way that tobacco companies are motivated by self-interest and profit — not public health — and that vague promises from the tobacco industry, such as a ‘smoke-free world,’ are nothing more than well-crafted public relations schemes.”

Juul has become so popular among teenagers that it’s become a verb.

“You wouldn’t be caught dead with a cigarette right now if you’re a teenager, but with Juuling, it’s cool,” said Jack Waxman, 17, on a recent appearance on “Good Morning America.”

Waxman produced a powerful video about “Juuling” and its widespread popularity among his generation. “These flavors are drawing them in and the nicotine is forcing them to stay,” said Waxman.

Sweet flavors like “mango,” “cool cucumber,” and “crème brulee” appeal to youth. The manufacturers claim the flavors help people change their smoking habits away from tobacco products.

“There is a false perception among teens that vaping is a healthy alternative to smoking because there’s no smoke,” said Wood. “But the reality is that the nicotine delivered in e-cigarettes is highly addictive and can affect brain development, which continues until age 25. Further, the aerosol from e-cigarettes contains other harmful chemicals.  And, there’s real concern that vaping may open the gate for young people to try cigarettes.”

“Generation Nation” warned about this new trend among young people. “It’s of great concern that 19% of Gen Z and nearly 40% of Millennials have tried an e-cigarette or vape product, which entice non-tobacco smokers with the promise of fun flavors and fewer byproducts.”

The second edition of “Generation Nation” will be released in late October. Wood anticipates that the study will find even more teenagers reporting that they are vaping.

“Juul and vaping products are cheap, accessible, and come in flavors. They’re super easy to hide in the palm of your hand, and the smell dissipates much quicker than with cigarettes. Teens today, unlike their Gen X parents, aren’t fussing with cologne as they walk back into class or their home. And they look like USB flash drives, so even if parents see them, they often don’t know what they are,” said Wood. “And in a bizarre twist, while so few teens consider smoking cool today, Juuling has become trendy. It appears in music videos and is plastered over Instagram with kids vaping at their dining-room table, classroom, and even in the hospital.”

The FDA warned these manufacturers that they have 60 days to prove they are doing a better job keeping their products out of the hands of minors. If they don’t, they might get shut down.

“Cigarettes aren’t even a factor anymore,” said Brendan McDermott, a senior at a Connecticut high school. “Nobody smokes cigarettes. You go to the bathroom and there’s a zero percent chance that anyone’s smoking a cigarette, but there’s a 50-50 chance that there’s five guys Juuling. And like Band-Aid has become synonymous with bandage, Juul has become synonymous with vape.’”

Previous articleIntercept Interviews in Extreme Situations
Next article[Webinar] “How to Engage and Sell Today’s Corporate Research Buyer”
Jimmy Zollo is the Co-Founder and CEO of Collaborata -- a Chicago-based tech startup serving the insights and marketing research world. Collaborata is the first-ever platform that enables organizations to share research costs and insights. Collaborata was a finalist for the 2017 Midwest Digital Startup of the Year, the 2016 Insight Innovation Award and has been featured on Business Insider, BuiltInChicago, Greenbook, Quirks, Research Live, MRWeb, and Market Research World. For more information, please visit: Jimmy developed his passion and enthusiasm for the Chicago tech community, while driving growth at GrubHub for four years. He helped develop GrubHub's industry-leading restaurant network, traveling across the country to launch new markets and grow existing ones. Following GrubHub's IPO and merger with Seamless, Jimmy transitioned to the corporate team, leading partnerships between GrubHub and many of Chicago's leading law, consulting, tech, and marketing firms.