Vaping: A Devil in a New Dress

By Christian Wallace

We all know that history is doomed to repeat itself. But how often do we actually notice? Today’s e-cigarette branding bares high resemblance to that of big tobacco companies 50+ years ago. In order to understand how something as dangerous as cigarettes became a cultural staple, it’s important to understand how tobacco has been marketed.

Nothing screams ‘Murica more than lung cancer right!

Let’s go back in time to 1954. Marlboro falls behind Camel as the leading seller of tobacco products. Marlboro had always advertised their cigarettes to women, calling it a “safer” and lighter smoke than their counterparts. Sales are on the decline and Marlboro is in desperate need of a solution to save their company. Then came the birth of the Marlboro man. Portrayed as a rugged cowboy in the West, the Marlboro man picked himself up by his bootstraps and began his hard day out on the ranch just like any other blue collar American. There’s only one thing different this time. He had a lit cigarette in his mouth. With a gaze similar to a young James Dean and the mystique of Johnny Depp, the Marlboro man revolutionized the future of advertising. Marlboro saw its profit quadruple from 5 billion to 20 billion in the span of just 2 years. The Marlboro man was shown on TV for another 45 years, and to this day is widely known as the greatest marketing tactic of all time. By selling the image of the Marlboro man instead of selling the actual product, millions of people were less likely to question the harms of smoking. And here we are in 2017. It seems like society has traveled a full circle with tobacco use. E-cigarette companies have taken a play out of the cigarette branding playbook. The modern day Marlboro man is here, except this time he’s holding an e-cigarette.

Popularity in Recent Years

In modern society, cigarette use has been trending downwards for quite some time. Since 1965, the percent of cigarette users has decreased by 30%. The CDC expects cigarette use to decline an extra 5 percent by the year 2020. The push to ban smoking is sweeping across the nation, and with the number of ex-smokers outnumbering current smokers for the first time ever, it’s time to get excited about smoking cessation. With social and policy change eradicating cigarette use across the U.S., it was only a matter of time until another product filled the void. The e-cigarette was invented in 2003 by Hon Lik, a pharmacist from China, in an effort to revolutionize and help combat the smoking epidemic. While some countries like Canada and Australia were quick to ban the use of e-cigarettes, America took a more reactive approach. The import of e-cigarettes was banned in 2009, giving American manufacturers free reign to appeal to the high market demand. E-cigarette use increased 900% from the year 2011 to 2015 for a myriad of reasons (CDC, 2017). Some people utilize e-cigs to ween them off smoking, while others being using due to the portrayed image of e-cigs as a “safe” alternative. Nevertheless, billion dollar companies like Blu and Juul appeal to as many target groups as possible. One of the world’s largest tobacco companies, British American Tobacco, has forecast revenue from its vapor products will double to $1.3 billion next year as other firms expand past traditional cigarettes (Larotonda, 2017). There are currently no regulations imposed on the advertisement methods of e-cigarettes. The branding strategy of a “safe” alternative to help smokers quit has transformed into targeting younger age groups as direct result of this lack of regulation. As long as the revenue stream is present, they could care less if the majority of their buyers are 18–24 years of age. Thousands of different flavors are now available on the market, which means thousands of different flavors to feed consumers’ underlying nicotine addiction.

How They Work and Impact Health

E-cigarettes have 3 components to them. An atomizer, battery, and a cartridge. The vape fluid within the cartridge typically contains propylene glycerin, flavoring, water, and nicotine (Rimer, 2016). When the user starts to inhale, the interaction between the atomizer and the battery then heats the liquid. The question that has yet to have a definitive answer is this: What exactly is being inhaled once that liquid is burned? The simple answer is no one really knows! Since each electronic nicotine delivery device has an adjustable temperature capability, it is very hard to understand what exactly the user is inhaling. The amount of propylene glycerin various as well with each flavor. The scariest part about e-cig use is that lawmakers are still so incredibly slow to keep up with the social trends. It was only last spring that the FDA included e-cigarettes as a “tobacco product” under the Tobacco Control (FDA, 2017).

Final Verdict — The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and the Uglier

The Good

If you currently are a cigarette smoker and have no intent to quit entirely, then e-cigarettes should be a strong consideration. E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes, but they are in no means “safe”. The adjustable nicotine level of the e-cigarette provides the opportunity for long term tobacco consumers to gradually decrease nicotine dependency (Frasalinos&Polosa, 2014). Even if smokers turn to electronic cigarettes on a regular basis, the liquid vapor is much better than being exposed to 50 carcinogens in each puff of tobacco smoke.

The Bad

The general consensus on the impact that electronic cigarettes have on public health is greatly divided. Scientists still haven’t fully come to a conclusion on the risks of marijuana after decades of research. It will take years for conclusive evidence to come out on the exact health effect of vapor inhalation. Since there are so many legal and health factors that are involved with keeping e-cigarettes on the market, e-cigarettes are here to stay.

The Ugly

E-cig companies promote the image that vaping is a sleek and sexy social movement that young adults are missing out on. Research on nicotine exposure during adolescence has been repeatedly tested. Not only does nicotine cause abnormalities in brain development, it can also “prime” your brain for addiction to harder substances (JourneyCenters, 2014). While the exact physiological harm of vapor exposure is inconclusive, no one will deny that high levels of nicotine consumption in adolescence has severe ramifications on the behavior of addiction According to a report from the Surgeon General, 1 in 6 high school students have used e-cigarettes in the past month.

The Uglier

Since the FDA has only recently begun to regulate the product, the verdict on the exact harm of e-cig use is still up for debate; however, most preliminary research proves that vaping is not safe. Again, the chemicals in each liquid sample greatly varies. One study shows that when cells are exposed to e-cigarette vapor, increased DNA strand damage and cell death occurs, which is also called genotoxicity (Ganapathy et al., 2017). This genotoxicity is responsible for the various types of cancer that arises from smoking tobacco. While the degree of DNA damage from vapor is not as severe as cigarettes, it is still present. E-cigarette vapor is not inert and exposure can lead to cell damage. Another study suggests that e-cig exposure induces inflammation, causes behavioral changes, suppresses the lung’s ability to fight of infection, and can trigger asthma. (Hiemstra & Bals, 2016). Overall, preliminary data shows that e-cigarettes have some degree of negative health implications similar to that of smoking tobacco.

Sources Cited

Hiemstra, P. S., & Bals, R. (2016, October 6). Basic science of electronic cigarettes: assessment in cell culture and in vivo models. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Nicotine Primes Brain for Other Drugs | Gateway Drug. (2014, November 28). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Know the Risks: E-cigarettes & Young People | U.S. Surgeon General’s Report. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Farsalinos, K. E., & Polosa, R. (2014, April). Safety evaluation and risk assessment of electronic cigarettes as tobacco cigarette substitutes: a systematic review. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Ganapathy, V., Manyanga, J., Brame, L., McGuire, D., Sadhasivam, B., Floyd, E., . . . Queimado, L. (2017, May 18). Electronic cigarette aerosols suppress cellular antioxidant defenses and induce significant oxidative DNA damage. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Sara Rimer•Photos by Cydney Scott•Video by Devin Hahn, & Rimer, L. C. (n.d.). Behind the Vapor. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Consumer Updates — The Facts on the FDA’s New Tobacco Rule. (2016, June 16). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

Larotonda, M. (2017, October 25). Vaping profits boom as ‘Big Tobacco’ pivots. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from



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