The inner workings of Big Tobacco’s vast vapespiracy

Paul Bacchi, Opinions Editor

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There’s almost no way that you haven’t heard of the recent vaping epidemic that has been hitting youths across the United States. Both nicotine vapes, such as the Juul, and THC vapes are causing serious lung disease in users. This has rightly been a cause for concern.

While I have no doubt that vaping (either nicotine or THC) is not good for you – after all, the lungs are made to absorb oxygen, not any other chemicals, from the air – I think that something is a bit fishy here. Some may call it a conspiracy theory, but I perfer to call it an undiscovered truth.

You see, I’ve been paying attention to the news coming out in regards to these vaping illnesses and one detail that trips me up is the youth of the users. According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (which, as an aside, kudos to the CDC for collecting data on this epidemic and publishing it quickly so that the public can better understand what they are dealing with here), of 373 confirmed vape-related lung injuries, 67 percent of these injuries are in the 18-35 year old bracket. Far more concerning to me, however, is the fact that 16 percent of these cases involve children under the age of 18.

It would be interesting to see the proportion of people buying vape products that are under the age of 21, given that many localities have banned the sale of all nicotine products to people under the age of 21, however this data has not been made available by the CDC.

See, the age of the users is an important thing to me, because I think that it is highly likely that many of these injuries are associated with the purchase of black market e-juices and pods. Authorities believe this too – the CDC urges users of vape products to stop, but if they don’t stop, to at least be more mindful of the products that they buy, to certainly stay away from products purchased from unlicensed vendors and not to add anything to the e-juices yourself.

These black market products are exactly the type of products that kids under the legal age would be attepting to purchase. To make matters worse, FDA regulation of these products is probably not great, especially given the fact that there is so little clinical research done on the effects of the chemicals present in so many vape products. To support this point, while I was working over the summer, a kid (18 years old) was telling me about his vapes. He had one CBD vape and one nicotine vape. During lunch one day, he read the label of his nicotine e-juice and noticed that it had that California Proposition warning that said that the product contained chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer. That is an example of some regulatory mismanagement going on in the FDA right now.

To add another layer to my theory, I have my suspicions as to how common these reports have been recently. I have no evidence to support this, but I find it likely that big tobacco might be gassing up the recent news of vape-related illness. The whole underage vape problem is not a recent epidemic — there have been nicotine vapes in high schools for a couple of years now, but for some reason we are all of a sudden hearing repeated reports of the illnesses associated with them.

I think it’s a big tobacco power play. Even if vaping devices aren’t the safer alternative to cigarettes, as they were once marketed, they are still wildly popular with the younger crowd — a group that tobacco companies have struggled to capture, due in part to restriction of advertising for cigarettes. However, vape companies, such as Juul, are allowed to advertise on television and on radio — I see and hear them all the time.

So this is the play:

1) Use the tremendous wealth and power of your tobacco company to ensure the media publicizes the bad things associated with your competition, vapes.

2) Watch as the vape companies fall in value due to decreased sales and increased restrictions.

3) Purchase these companies and then lobby to remove those restrictions and have the media stop talking ill of the product that is now yours.

That is, in my opinion, the plan of the tobacco companies. Last year, Altria purchased a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs, and while that investment may not look so suspicious, given that Altria has lost a lot of its value on the stock market, there is another player at work: Phillip Morris International (PMI).

PMI is a massive company — far larger and more influential than Altria. And it became public knowledge a couple of months ago that PMI was interested in merging with Altria. How convenient, then, for Altria (and Juul) to lose so much of their value due to this bad publicity. If I were a board member of Altria, I would be begging for a merger with PMI.

I don’t know what the outcome of all of this will be. Perhaps vapes will be made safe, but that’s unlikely. Perhaps vapes will be banned, but that’s even more unlikely. No matter what the outcome, however, I know this — you, dear reader, should always be mindful of the news that you consume, and you should always double check sources and read between the lines. Don’t let big tobacco, vapes, or the media fool you. Be a free thinker.