Not Just a Vapor: Big Tobacco’s Myth & Consequences

Written by Queens Reality Check Youth Engagement Manager, Ayisha Green

In NYC, 8,000 public high school students smoke cigarettes. This number is higher than expected, considering the decline in smoking rates. Smoking rates have been on the decline since the Surgeon General’s Report of 1964, when smoking cigarettes was linked to lung cancer. The following decades saw the banning of advertisements on television and community efforts to curb tobacco use. 

Despite clear evidence that their products are hazardous to health, tobacco companies have invested large amounts of money and effort into advertising and appealing to youth and other marginalized groups, all while knowing the health consequences.  

According to the CDC, the tobacco industry spent 8.2 billion dollars in 2019 for advertisements and promotions. This considerable sum, coupled with products like Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), has been a successful way for the tobacco industry to rebrand its tarnished image. For example, RJ Reynolds Vapor, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, which also owns Newport Cigarettes, has expanded its products to include Vuse, one of two FDA approved END brands with no shortage of contenders who did not receive FDA approval but are still on the market. 

With designs featuring a battery charge, alluring flavors like menthol, and a discreet appearance, tobacco companies have found a way to reach a new generation. Considering the exciting features of e-cigarettes, it is no wonder most youth start smoking by trying these flavored products. 

Aside from the design e-cigarettes are not as regulated and do not have an extensive history of documented health implications unlike their traditional cigarette counterparts. Tobacco companies have capitalized from this, pushing the association of their electronic products with water vapor and non-toxic images. Reynold’s Vapor is even using vapor in their name. This has led to misinformation on what e-cigarettes’ contents are and how they affect bodily health. I regularly hear teens state they believe the flavored smoke cloud that is inhaled from e-cigarettes to be water vapor when it is fact a chemical cloud known as an aerosol. This false narrative has consequences considering the toxic components known to exist in vaping products. Along with highly addictive nicotine, they are harmful to young adults.  

 According to the CDC e-cigarette products are known to contain: 

  • “Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs,
  • Flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease, 
  • Volatile organic compounds, 
  • Cancer-causing chemicals, 
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.”  
Reality Check youth and NYC Smoke-Free staff in Albany for Legislative Education Day 2023.

As they navigate a world in which vapes are becoming increasingly accessible and widely used, many young people have become leaders in the movement to raise awareness on what the World Health Organization defines as a Tobacco Epidemic.  

Through programs like Reality Check, youth educate elected officials, write op-eds, and work tirelessly to share vital information about the human cost of tobacco. Pictured above are youth leaders from Reality Check who met with elected officials in Albany this February. As the old and emerging companies change the face of tobacco products, these teens update and amplify the information and resources their decision makers and peers need to understand and avoid the new strategies of Big Tobacco. 

If you are interested in learning more about Reality Check and NYC Smoke Free’s work broadly, reach out to our team at [email protected]


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