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Different Ways Tobacco Companies Target Young Audiences

Smoking cigarettes used to be as commonplace as chewing a stick of gum. It could be done in offices, restaurants, public parks, businesses, and airplanes. However, when its correlation to lung cancer became apparent in the late 1940s and early 1950s, smoking became banned in different areas, and social interest groups began advocating passionately against smoking. The rejection of cigarettes overall has been quite successful; the lowest rate of cigarette smoking was recent, in 2018, with just 13.7% of US adults reporting cigarette use according to CDC figures. However, in the modern era, a new problem has arisen.

 Fed up with their lack of business from older markets which anti-smoking campaigns have long surrounded, tobacco companies are changing how they advertise to be more appealing to younger audiences. This article will address some of the different marketing strategies used to target teens and young adults, as well as statistics about e-cigarette use in the US and some of the health risks linked to significant vaping.

Firstly, the number one way tobacco companies have targeted their products toward younger audiences is by using candy and fruit flavors in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. Almost all e-cigarette companies across the US market employ this tactic, even going as far as naming their products after brands of children’s cereal and other treats to draw a connection between their product and something youths already enjoy. This is despite the ban on flavored cigarettes, besides menthols, in 2009; when the law was written, e-cigarettes had not yet become prevalent and were not barred from including flavoring. 

Moreover, a National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2022 cited 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reporting e-cigarette use, and of those, 84.9% used flavored devices. Of those individuals, the most commonly used flavors were fruit (69.1%); candy, desserts, or other sweets (38.3%); mint (29.4%); and menthol (26.6%). This shows how teens and young adults are drawn to tobacco products because of their sweet flavorings; almost all teen tobacco use involves flavored products. 

Additionally, tobacco companies earmark teens by promoting their products in things already commonly used by teens, like depicting smoking in video games, cartoons, tv shows, and other advertisements. A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC found that the three cigarette brands most heavily advertised were the brands middle and high school students preferred over others. Most popular is Marlboro, used by 48.8% of high schoolers and 38.3% of middle schoolers, then Newport was liked by 21.4 and 16.6 respectively, and lastly, Camel chose by around 13.4% of both groups.

Furthermore, tobacco companies have also tried to prevent new generations from realizing how harmful smoking and vaping can be by releasing misleading statements about “healthier” versions of cigarettes like low-tar, light, or filtered versions. This became a popular tactic after the initial realization of the health impact of cigarettes by medical professionals in the late 1940s.

 Still, the reality is that these alternatives do not decrease any of the risk factors that come from smoking. The same thing goes for e-cigarettes, which are often depicted as a tool to help long-time addicts quit cigarette smoking but can be just as, if not more, addictive. Likewise, teens usually begin their e-cigarette use with the assumption that they are at less risk of addiction than they would be with traditional tobacco products. Therefore, they are safe from many of the adverse effects of smoking when they choose to vape instead.

As the invention of the modern e-cigarette was just a few decades ago, there has been no opportunity for companies to study the long-term effects of these devices on individual health. That being said, there is little evidence to suggest that using them circumvents the health risks from traditional smoking, which include asthma, gum disease and tooth loss, cancers, diabetes, heart disease, blindness, and vision loss.

 Erectile dysfunction has become significantly more prevalent among young men in recent generations, which some experts are attributing to the popularization of vaping among teens and young adults. Recently, a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests men aged 20 and 65 with no prior history of cardiovascular disease but who use e-cigarettes daily are 2.4 times as likely as men who don’t vape to report erectile dysfunction. Vaping and smoking cause ED because nicotine, as a chemical, causes blood vessels all over the body to constrict and reduces blood flow, increasing the individual risk for a stroke or cardiac episode. 

In conclusion, no matter how you consume it, tobacco and nicotine products will always be harmful to your health, especially if you begin your daily use from a very young age, like middle or high school. This is why the way these companies target young people is highly harmful and concerning; they cannot realize the danger they are putting themselves in until it is too late, and they then have an addictive cycle to break out of. 

Of course, there are plenty of groups working against this issue, like TheTruth, who runs advertisements to disillusion some of the claims tobacco companies make, as well as providing success stories of young adults who have changed their lives for the better by giving up vaping. They also offer resources for people trying to quit, so if you or anyone you know has been struggling with nicotine addiction, you are not alone, and there is support for you. Make the change today and start living healthier!

Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe

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