You may remember the days of “Joe Camel”, that cartoonish drawing of a camel who oozed cool because he smoked Camel cigarettes. RJR Reynolds used Joe Camel from 1987 tp 1997, when, under public pressure from both Congress and the American Medical Association, RJR Reynolds stopped using the camel in its ads. But the damage was done. In 1991, the American Medical Association published a study that showed Joe Camel was identified by 6-year olds just as often as Mickey Mouse.
Today, it’s e-cigarettes. “Juuling” is described as “the Apple of e-cigarettes,” and it’s becoming increasingly popular among teens as a “smokeless” alternative to cigarettes. But doctors are already warning the public that just one e-cigarette can deliver as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. The American Lung Association recently issued a warning to users of e-cigs that they are at significant risk for “popcorn lung”, a serious lung disease with symptoms similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Nevertheless, the number of young people vaping is increasing, and makers of e-cigs are following the example set by RJR with Joe Camel by creating packaging that looks like juice boxes, whipped cream, and even candy.
“The same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice a new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes,” Dr. Tom Frieden, of the Centers for Disease Control, warned in 2016. But it wasn’t until this month that government officials started cracking down on the makers of e-cigarettes when the F.D.A. announced they were issuing 13 warning letters to companies that sell vaping products like liquid nicotine in packaging that may appeal to children, including products that resemble juice boxes and candy. F.D.A. officials said they had started an undercover sting operation targeting retailers that sell the popular Juul products to minors and had asked the maker, Juul Labs, to turn over documents related to marketing practices and health research.
Juul issued a statement this week that it would unveil a program to discourage the use of e-cigs by minors. But no plan has been released yet. Regardless, F.D.A. Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told reporters, “the images are alarming, and it’s easy to see how a child could confuse these e-liquid products for something they believe they’ve consumed before.” As far as action against e-cigarette companies, he continued, “these are just the initial steps in what is going to be a sustained campaign. There are bad actors out there.”