Clearing The Vapor

My first experience with vaping was with a Blu e-cigarette kit that I had purchased online in 2011. I had been smoking for a couple of years. Being stationed in Japan, everyone smoked. But dealing with the typhoons in the summer I would find myself needing, and my vape pen filled that need.

Eventually, there did come a time where I decided to quit smoking. I used patches, and for a time they worked. In the end, it didn’t last very long. They would make me feel anxietic and on one occasion caused me to have a night terror, so I went back to smoking. Years passed and my smoking continued. When I came back to the states vaping had taken off in the form of designer products, decorative, mechanical mods, that were faddish.

Photo of a tube mod and tank by Anton Malanin on Unsplash

As time would go on, the fad would pass, devices advanced, and a new culture was growing. People were no longer vaping for the clouds or for the fancy mods to show off. It was a way to separate themselves from conventional cigarettes. Gone was the time when unregulated devices caused batteries to heat up in your pocket.

Vaping had become more than just a meme. It was the cleaner and safer alternative that people had been looking for for years. Not only to remove the smoke from your lungs but to fill that oral fixation majority of us develop as smokers. While not necessarily mainstream, vaping had found a place and a community.

Redefining “Cigarette” & “Smoking”

The story I tell obviously sounds different from the world we live in today. When you think of e-cigarettes or vaping now, you think of them being marketed and sold to children and teenagers. These incidents, having nothing to do with vaping culture, but were isolated to a few select companies (i.e., JUUL). But still, they’ve been used as a catalyst for social, political, and congressional action against vaping.

May 05, 2016
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule extending its authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, among others.

Labeling and lumping vaping, vaping products, and accessories in with all other tobacco products, calling them “cigarettes”, has demonized the entire culture. Misnaming it as “smoking” has allowed for bans on vaping in public areas and environments. Classifying it as a “tobacco product” skews data and statistics on smoking and tobacco use. It’s led to the creation of major roadblocks (i.e., the PACT Act) that have gotten in the way of consumers and retailers.

Screenshot image of tweet made by Gregory Conley

If you know nothing of the culture and you’ve never vaped before then if you go out and buy a Juul device you’re going to think you’re vaping. But these companies, which are the largest “vaping” companies in the market, are not like any other real vaping company out here. They are just as shrouded in mystery as Big Tobacco.

Vaping has been proven in countless studies to be a healthier alternative to smoking and has been highly successful in helping smokers quit. So I wanted to know how exactly did we get here? How did vaping become so tainted? Where did companies like JUUL come from and how did they become the face of vaping?

The Big Tobacco Conspiracy

The hidden enemy.

Smoking traditional cigarettes had been dropping in America, Big Tobacco had been losing its power. Even still, America has a large issue with millions still smoking cigarettes and living with a smoking-related disease. So why would we be in such opposition to a remedy found in vaping? Where did this animosity against vaping stem from? Well, I’ll tell you this much…

It’s not a coincidence.

Let’s first look at the leading e-cigarette brands in the United States. For 2020 the leading brand was JUUL followed in second place by Vuse. These companies do not exemplify the spirit of vaping. The chances are, these devices aren’t even sold in your local vape shops, I know they aren’t in mine.

JUUL produces unsafe nicotine devices. All of their juice products are nic salts (nicotine salts), a stronger, more potent compound than your typical vape juice. While not an instant hazard, the combination of an uneducated consumer and a device with very little control (of output and heat) is dangerous. You’re left in a situation where users are put at risk of exposure to harmful elements (i.e., metals) and chemical byproducts.

More than that, they targeted and exploited middle and high school-aged kids in schools, camps, and media (i.e., through advertisements and social media influencers). Their devices were easily accessible, easy to use, concealable, colorful, and cheap. This in turn caused the reversal of a major downward trend in nicotine use, especially among American teens.

Who owns these companies?

To my unwanted surprise, the company behind JUUL is Altria Group, Inc. Altria is an American, world-leading, tobacco company. Vuse is owned by another big tobacco giant, R.J. Reynolds. It gives the appearance of a long con. These companies have been operating under the guise of vape companies but they run their business just like an unregulated tobacco company would.

Photo of Vuse pod and cigarette waste by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

All of the things that the government watches them for they were doing and getting away with as “vape” companies. Advertising to kids, using colors that aren’t allowed to be on cigarette boxes, omission of warning labels (i.e., surgeon generals warning), they were able to circumvent all of these. By most vaping businesses being on the smaller side, you didn’t have these problems, not until big tobacco made a stake in and took over the vaping market.

Crackdowns on FDA approval, while as great as that sounds, are really just going to ensure more people either start smoking or cause those trying to quit smoking to turn back to it. These smaller vape companies also will continue to be cut out of the market. Big tobacco has the infrastructure to deal with the new restrictions and mail bans, whereas smaller vape companies aren’t built to operate under these new terms and restrictions.

But hey, that was the scheme all along wasn’t it?

The War on Vaping

Misinformation on vaping is vast.

Looking up articles and blogs on the deceitfulness of the tobacco industry there were countless writers, investigative journalists, anti-smoking and anti-vaping campaigns, and academic experts who understand but still don’t see the whole picture. The distrust in the tobacco industry has grown, it’s well noted that they tried to double-deal with their products that rightly should be called e-cigarettes.

However, no one has put two and two together yet, that possibly they invaded and caused all of this mayhem because vaping was the latest form of harm reduction and prevention. Perhaps this giant wasn’t very happy with this small vaping market that had successfully created one of the safest smoking cessation agents.

The big tobacco conspiracy worked with the help of the most unlikely allies.

Vaping was small but growing in popularity with a positive culture and people attached to it. Ruining the spirit of that was an easy feat for big tobacco. But getting societies to ban and prohibit the selling, shipping, and/or manufacturing of vaping products was truly masterful.

Is it so far fetched to say that big tobacco was behind this? It really doesn’t matter if the public hates them now, their biggest opposition is gone. They have already recovered customers and ensnared and conquered an entire new generation by leading them straight to nicotine dependence.

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