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The Hit We’ll Take: A Throwback Anti-Vaping Guide

The tobacco industry’s tactics we don’t want to bring back -- and the throwbacks we do.

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Here’s the thing: e-cigs, vapes, and JUUL are just a bad remake of regular cigarettes. More often than not, they both have super addictive nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals, not to mention flavored products designed to get young people hooked. Yep, e-cig companies are trying to bring back the stuff we hate about regular cigarettes.

How about bringing back stuff we do want, like Heelys, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and Silentó, best known for “Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)?? Through The Hit We’ll Take campaign from DoSomething, powered by CVS Health Foundation, we can spread the word. Share this throwback-style guide online with friends to show them that e-cigs like JUUL are just a bad remake of regular cigarettes. You’ll be entered for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship. (Plus, the school that shares the most guides will win a personal visit from Silentó himself!)

We partnered with CATCH for this throwback guide, with facts sourced from their CATCH My Breath curriculum about e-cigarettes and JUUL.

1. Both e-cigs and cigs can contain cancer-causing chemicals.

Instead of chemical-filled e-liquids, let’s bring back Nickelodeon slime.

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The term “vaping” is more than a bit misleading -- it might make you think of water vapor, but e-liquid isn’t exactly water. It’s actually more like a dangerous concoction of chemicals like acetaldehyde (a class 2 carcinogen), acrolein (which causes lung infections), and heavy metals (as in lead and nickel...not the music). Whether wrapped up in a cigarette or suspended in an aerosol like in an e-cig, these carcinogens can still cause cancer.

When it comes to liquids, don’t bring back dangerous chemicals. Instead, we’ll stick to the iconic green substance of our childhood -- Nickelodeon slime.

2. Both e-cigs and cigs can contain highly addictive nicotine.

Instead of nicotine addictions, let’s bring back our Vine addictions.

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More than 50% of teens think fruit and candy flavored e-liquids don’t contain nicotine. True story: in 2015, 99% of all e-cigs sold had nicotine, which means that, more often than not, they do. JUULs in particular contain exceptionally high amounts (but more on that later). We should call addiction by what it is -- a brain disease. Nicotine literally restructures your brain to crave it, leaving you anxious, moody, and nervous when it wears off. We’ve already been taught to avoid nicotine in cigarettes; it’s time we did the same for e-cigs.

We really don’t need to bring back nicotine addictions. How about instead, we bring back the addictive (and hilarious) experience of watching Vines until 3 a.m.

3. Both e-cigs and cigs can be especially addictive to (and dangerous for) young people.

Instead of dangerous smoking products, let’s bring back the (only slightly) dangerous toys of the 2000s.

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The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) have reported 1,299 cases of lung illnesses and 26 deaths associated with e-cig use in the past few months, with more each day. The CDC has said plain and simple that e-cigs are unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults, and they’re encouraging them to stop. For young people, the nicotine in e-cigs can negatively impact attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Plus, as a teen, your brain is still developing, making it easier for you to get addicted to nicotine, and that addiction keeps young people smoking (and at risk) into adulthood.

E-cig products like JUUL are often marketed as safer alternatives to cigarettes, but the reality is that they can still cause a lot of harm, especially for young people using them to smoke for the first time. These aren’t the kinds of dangers that we want to bring back. Let’s bring back the stuff that was only lowkey dangerous -- like Beyblades or Heelys.

The Hit We'll Take

Help your friends escape the vape.

4. Both e-cigs and cigs have been designed to attract young people.

Instead of predatory marketing, let’s bring back wacky infomercial marketing like they did with FLOAM.

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“Predatory marketing” is when companies intentionally market harmful products to specific groups. When it comes to e-cigs, these tactics can include designing deceptively toy-like devices, or the way JUUL promoted with trendy, youthful ads and models (especially on social media).

JUUL is often referred to as the “iPhone of e-cigarettes.” Like a lot of e-cigs, it’s made to look more like a cool piece of tech and less like a dangerous box of lung disease. It draws in young people with its looks, but a single JUUL pod has the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes (that’s three times the legal nicotine limit in the European Union). Suddenly, those sleek, USB-like designs don’t seem so glamorous. We saw the same thing happening years ago with cigarettes when companies used flashy ads and designs to try to convince us that smoking was cool (it’s not). (BTW, when it comes to predatory marketing: tobacco and e-cig companies don't just target young people. They specifically go after communities of color and low-income areas too.)

As a marketing tactic, the vaping industry is copying the tobacco industry’s playbook. We’d much rather bring back the wacky infomercial marketing of phone-order art supplies like FLOAM and Blendy Pens.

5. Both e-cig and cig companies have used flavored products to attract young people.

Instead of fruit-flavored smoking products, let’s bring back that era of fruit-flavored yogurt snacks.

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There’s a reason why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is calling for a ban on fruit-flavored e-cig products: 81% of young people who have ever used e-cigs started with flavors. And even though JUUL stopped selling its fruit flavors in stores after pressure from the FDA, they’ve opened the floodgates for knock-off brands to take their place on the shelves. Not only do these flavors attract people our age, they’re actually really dangerous in and of themselves. While flavors are often safe food additives, the chemicals in them can change when inhaled, and more than 8,000 flavor chemicals used in different e-liquids have NOT been tested for use in the lungs.

Flavoring dangerous chemicals isn’t new -- flavored tobacco has been banned in cigarettes since 2009 when they tried to pull the same trick to draw in young people. Instead of flavored smoking products, bring back flavored yogurt! (GoGurt and Trix will always have a place in our hearts.)

6. Both cig and e-cig execs have tried to publicly downplay the danger of their products and predatory marketing... but governmental agencies know better, and regulations have followed.

Instead of companies with something to hide, let’s bring back High School Musical icon (and villain with nothing to hide) Sharpay Evans.

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So what do the bigwigs heading up these e-cig companies have to say for themselves? Kevin Burns, the former CEO of JUUL, has said that their products are tested for safety and totally not meant for young people, but a few important folks beg to differ. The FDA issued a statement, saying the company illegally marketed their products as safer than traditional cigarettes, and the FDA is seeking further documents from JUUL Labs to back up the company’s claims. A House of Representatives panel also found that JUUL targeted school and youth camps to promote their devices.

But should we be surprised, considering Altria Group (which owns the makers of Marlboro, Copenhagen, and Skoal) has a 35% stake in JUUL Labs? We’ll gladly trade these companies for the over-the-top teen movie villains we grew up on. Because as cutthroat as Sharpay from High School Musical was, at least she was honest about it.

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