Capitol Alert

California ads highlight vaping dangers

A frame grab from one new anti-vaping ad put out by the California Department of Public Health on Friday, March 20, 2015.
A frame grab from one new anti-vaping ad put out by the California Department of Public Health on Friday, March 20, 2015. California Department of Public Health

California has taken another step in its campaign against electronic cigarettes, with the Department of Public Health on Friday releasing video advertisements calling the devices toxic and warning they are being marketed to kids.

While cigarette use has plummeted in California and nationwide as the dangers of tobacco have become well known, electronic cigarettes – also known as e-cigarettes – have emerged in recent years as a popular alternative. Vaping lounges, in which customers can sample different flavors of the liquid within vaping devices, have sprung up around Sacramento.

Public health officials have sounded the alarm, emphasizing that e-cigarettes contain both addictive nicotine and chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects. They warn that the sweet flavors contained in vaping devices, which function by heating a chemical liquid into a mist that can be inhaled, appeal to young Californians.

“California has been a world leader in tobacco use prevention and cessation since 1990, with one of the lowest youth and adult smoking rates in the nation,” California Department of Public Health director Karen Smith said in a written statement. “The aggressive marketing and escalating use of e-cigarettes threatens to erode that progress.”

The new television spots suggest that e-cigarette makers are intentionally targeting young people. They compare e-cigarette purveyors to a tobacco industry that has been demonized for long concealing or downplaying the health hazards of cigarettes.

One, entitled “Kids Aren’t Alright,” displays images of young people with e-cigarettes and the text “for the next generation to be hooked by big tobacco.”

In “What Could Go Wrong,” an image of cigarette packs gives way to the words “lung cancer” and the claim that vaping is as addictive as heroin.

“There’s a lot the e-cig industry isn’t telling us about vaping,” the ad says.

Vaping industry representatives argue that their product gives smokers a way to wean from cigarettes with a healthier alternative. Gregory Conley, president of an industry-funded advocacy group called the American Vaping Association, said he used vaping to kick an eight-year cigarette habit. He also linked a rise in teen vaping to fewer teens smoking cigarettes.

“Regrettably, this campaign by the California Department of Public Health will actually protect cigarette markets by discouraging adult smokers from quitting smoking with a smoke-free product,” Conley said.

The chemicals in e-cigarettes exist in non-harmful amounts, Conley said. He called public health officials hypocritical for assailing flavored e-cigarettes without applying the same pressure to alcohol products.

“You do not see the Department of Public Health running ads about how the liquor industry is marketing flavored spirits – if you walk into a liquor store, you can find cotton candy vodka,” Conley said. “I quit with watermelon flavor” vaping, he added, “and there are multiple studies showing adult smokers – the people who are dying by the hundreds of thousands every year – they find flavors very helpful in getting off cigarettes.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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