Editorial: Vape invasion: The allure of nicotine in disguise

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Imagine you’re on a trip to your local gas station or convenience store. You quickly grab a snack or drink and head up to the register. There, you’re greeted by a rainbow spectacle of gadgets of different shapes and sizes. 

From a distance, to an unassuming customer, they look like toys. But a closer look will reveal they’re actually e-cigarettes. 

Now imagine you’re a naive and impressionable person, of college age or younger. You spot an egg-shaped device wrapped in an ombre of blue and green. The words “blue razz” and “6,000 puffs” are etched onto the packaging. What’s truly inside the device is unclear. But it’s intriguing regardless. 

Today, it can be that simple, and apparently ‘cool,’ to get hooked on nicotine and tobacco. 

E-cigarettes — commonly referred to as vapes — now come in the form of Elf Bars, Flairs, Puff Bars and a slew of other brands. And they’re everywhere. 

Suburbs and cities are littered with smoke shops. In Bethlehem, you need not but go farther than Pantry 1. Yes, you “need” to be 21 years old to purchase tobacco products in the United States, but with fake IDs, older friends and lax cashiers, there are a number of ways around this exemption — not that we condone any of them. 

Even without the forethought of purchasing a vape on your own, it’s easy to be consumed in a haze of fruity vapor and peer pressure at parties and social events.  

Before you know it, you can’t go to a party without this special form of social lubricant. You can’t get through a class without sneaking to hit your vape. You can’t go for a run without your lungs needing a break. 

Your teeth may be yellowing, skin wrinkling, gums graying, addiction intensifying. But inside your local smoke shop, the vape of your dreams awaits — cool mint, bubblegum, piña colada, square, ovular, bright pink or neon yellow, like an accessory. Whatever you could possibly desire in an adult pacifier. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a shift in the culture surrounding tobacco use.

Today, smoking cigarettes is widely considered tacky or disgusting, especially to the younger generations who see them encased in packages warning of their subsequent health hazards or see the unsightly effects of smoking on older generations. 

But they were once legal, easily accessible and socially acceptable. Thanks to the suave movie stars and glamorous ad campaigns, it was even once cool to smoke.  

Then, somewhere in the 2010s came the rise of the e-cigarette. The trailblazer for this culture shift was the Juul — a flash drive-like device that came with nicotine-infused pods of varying flavors, like mango, cool mint, even tobacco for those who are more straight-forward. 

After the FDA reasoned fruity flavors were causing a teen vaping epidemic and found issues in Juul’s company application, federal bans were put into action mid-2022 and the devices started disappearing from store shelves. 

But the 2020s also came with a different kind of device: disposable vapes, which are non-refillable and discarded after they run out of puffs. 

And with that came a shift in marketing. Long gone are the sleek, metallic finishes of Juuls. Now, we’re in the era of chubby, neon bricks that encompass Gen-Z’s affection for maximalist aesthetics and fidgeting fixations.

Nicotine addiction looks prettier than ever today, but its effects are just as ugly — perhaps even uglier since many vapes are coming from unregulated manufacturers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what’s really inside these devices. 

Peer pressure and mouthwatering flavors are partly to blame for the rampant use of vapes among young people. 

But the transition of vapes into some sort of trendy accessory should not be ignored and the companies who are creating these devices should not be pardoned. 

How are middle schoolers to turn away from a vape that looks like a toy? How are addicts expected to quit when their go-to spot has an endless supply of new types of disposables?  

Cigarette smokers are bound to designated areas. Juuls were designed to look discreet and inconspicuous. But aesthetically pleasing, sensory-stimulating vapes are far more difficult to hide. In fact, they beg to be shown off. And that’s dangerous. 

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