The Worst Gift this Holiday Season

On a recent holiday shopping trip, amid festive décor and fabulous sales, I was taken aback by one product — electronic cigarettes. From mall kiosks to local convenience stores, from gift shops to grocery stores, these products were everywhere.

This year, more and more youth are being exposed to the marketing tactics of the tobacco and electronic cigarette industry. More and more teens will walk past brightly colored vape pens, fruit and candy flavored e-juice, and inexpensive e-hookahs endorsed by celebrities and offered at majorly discounted prices — just in time for the holidays.

Over the last 25 years, great progress has been made in California in regards to reducing youth smoking rates and preventing the tobacco industry from marketing its products to kids. Adult smoking rates fell by more than 50 percent from 1965 to 2012. Many lives were saved.

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry is at it again. E-cigarettes were introduced in the United States eight years ago and have proven especially alluring to young people. Use of e-cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014 among middle and high school students in California. Nearly 9 percent of 8th graders and 16 percent of 10th grades in California use e-cigarettes regularly. We are seeing vape shops on almost every corner, even at malls where kids and teens hangout with their friends and family.

Whether you walk down the street, listen to the radio or simply turn on your television, e-cigarette advertisements are everywhere. In fact, in 2014, $120 million was spent on e-cigarette advertising. E-cigarette marketing is renormalizing the act of smoking, while introducing a new generation of youth to nicotine addiction.

And while many of these advertisements claim that e-cigarettes are “harmless” and a “safer alternative” to smoking traditional tobacco products, recent research shows that teens who otherwise would never have started smoking traditional cigarettes are eight times more likely to start if they have vaped. In addition, e-cigarettes produce a toxic aerosol that contains at least 10 chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive harm.

As a parent shopping for gifts for my family this holiday season, I was shocked and saddened to see that once again the tobacco industry is trying to take advantage of our youth by marketing these harmful products so heavily, especially during this time of year. Let’s put our health first and protect our youth from a lifetime of addiction.

Kari Moya, MPH
Program Coordinator, VCC Tobacco Control program