It’s using the slick, high-tech disguise of vaping.
Twenty years ago, as a creative director, I helped create a commercial for the Truth campaign to introduce its effort to prevent cigarette smoking by young people. The spot was simply footage of tobacco executives all testifying, “I believe nicotine is not addictive.” All we did was add a laugh track.
The effect of my campaign and others was to help a generation of young people see the tobacco companies as they really were. Companies that lied not just to the government but the public, with misleading ad campaigns aimed at teenagers, their “growth market.”
Now they’re doing it again, but in a new, slick, high-tech guise that is harder to combat. And ad agencies, which had mostly left Big Tobacco’s side, are aiding the effort, lured back in by increasing fees for the work and decreasing fears the public will judge them for it.
While teenage cigarette smoking rates have recently fallen below 5 percent, America is now contending with an epidemic of young people using e-cigs, vapes and other “nicotine delivery devices,” as the tobacco industry christened them years ago in secret memos, searching for an official alternative to describing their products as cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaping rose by nearly 80 percent among high school students from 2017 to 2018, erasing previous progress in reducing tobacco use among teenagers.
The vaping industry exploits everything Big Tobacco was already good at. Grow the tobacco, extract the nicotine, provide it in concentrations even higher than found in cigarettes, put it in sleek packages and market it relentlessly.
Juul promotes itself as a health-conscious company, even as it develops potentially more addictive vaping products. According to Juul — a brand so popular that “juuling” has become its own verb — one of its “pods” has more nicotine in it than an entire pack of cigarettes on average.
If Juul were serious about marketing to adults, it could use pinpointed digital marketing to make sure that those seeing its ads are over 21. Stanford researchers found the company’s launch marketing “was patently youth-oriented.”