The heroine in the Bollywood movie Lipstick Under My Burkha, demurely made eyes at her smoking hot Marlboro man, until the tobacco industry told her she could have her own cigarette and light it too.

You have come a long way baby! 

Virginia Slims equated liberated women with smoking. The movie Lipstick Under My Burkha showed empowered women first huff and then puff together, blowing smoke in the face of their tormentors. In order to lure children into the act of smoking, the nicotine industry is using candy-flavored tobacco products. 

JUUL is the most popular brand of e-cigarettes that has become synonymous with smoking. Add a dropful of menthol, a dash of color, make it a digital stick and you have a winner. Kids find that menthol makes the smoke filling their lungs cool. 

They follow the curl of their smoke to nicotine slavery.

“My generation was raised by the American culture to hate cigarettes. We saw smokers huddled outside buildings puffing like pariahs. The tobacco industry changed the game with e-cigarettes introducing cool new flavors, collectibles, and the ability to smoke indoors. You don’t have to stand in the cigarette corner. Smoke them in your mom’s house. They smell like cotton candy,” said 25-year-old Roshn Marwah.

Tobacco companies often use nicotine salts in vapes instead of regular nicotine, said flavors hook kids. “Each pen comes pre-filled with nic salts, which are absorbed quicker than standard e-liquid into the bloodstream and have a much smoother throat hit in comparison to standard nicotine,” promises Ecig wizard

Some teens are waking up in the middle of the night to vape.

JUULing or vaping was designed to increase the rate of nicotine delivery. “One JUUL pod equaled 20 cigarettes,” said Alison Wohlgemuth, Program Director- East Bay, Bay Area Community Resources at a Global MediaX briefing on October 20th.  

In its early days, e-cigarette company JUUL recruited Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, and Kristen Stewart for advertisements on youth-focused websites –  Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, Seventeen magazine, and educational sites for middle school and high school students. In a lawsuit filed against JUUL,  the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office  alleged, “They bought advertising space on websites such as Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and The Cartoon Network, whose primary audiences are underage consumers, some of whom attend elementary school.” The lawsuit alleged that JUUL rejected a marketing proposal that targeted adults in favor of one that sought to win the “cool crowd.”

“The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes,” said the FDA. The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) results on e-cigarette use show that more than 5 million U.S. middle and high school students are current e-cigarette users (having used within the last 30 days) – with a majority reporting cartridge-based products as their usual brand.

Tara O’Sullivan

“I started smoking five years ago with cigarettes and switched to e-cigs,” says 20-year-old Tara O’Sullivan. “With a cigarette, the stick used to finish so quickly. The e-cig was refillable and therefore cost-effective and lasted weeks. It also came in two strengths. I felt menthol is good for the throat. It  is soothing for the throat.” Her favorite flavor is lychee mango.

“I have friends who will never smoke a cigarette but wouldn’t leave home without their e-cig charger,” said Roshn Marwah. The e-cigs are small, sleek, and discreet.

In 2019, concerns about teen vaping rose rapidly during the Trump administration, which drew up a restrictive plan to ban all kinds of vapes; but the initiative ran into problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, there were fears that small business owners who were part of the President’s base, were going to be affected.  The plan was modified to exclude menthol.

In January 2020, the FDA banned kid-appealing flavors with the exception of menthol. Nicotine purveyors stayed a step ahead of regulators by launching disposable vapes,  a new device to keep the flavor market hooked. These vapes did not fall within the scope of the law and helped circumvent the nationwide ban on flavored pre-filled pods like JUUL.

NICOTINE = BRAIN POISON

When children went looking for sweet and fruity flavors banned in JUUL, they discovered Puff Bars, the new kid on the tobacco industry block that was filling the gap in the market. Puff Bars are disposable colorful vape kits in delicious flavors like pink lemonade but made for single use. Puff Bar’s sales skyrocketed.

They are priced significantly lower than JUUL, which costs up to $34.99 for the device with JUUL pods sold separately in the U.S. “They are a no-hassle, low investment option, ideal for users looking to test a few devices before settling on a vape kit,” said Puff Bar. Enticed children followed the pied piper vape kits down the path of addiction.

                                                                                                   Puff Bars

The FDA sent warning letters to Puff Bar in July of 2020. Puff Bar halted its sales and went dormant, and surfaced in February 2021 with a new offering! 

They had reformulated their nicotine liquid, said their email to clients. It was no longer derived from tobacco. It was synthetic. Rules that govern tobacco products no longer apply.

The FDA’s Center For Tobacco Products lost its jurisdiction over this product. Puff Bar’s sales exploded, reaching sales of $119 million this year, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Nicotine products are sold and delivered at corner stores scattered near easy reach of school-going children from Pittsburg or Antioch, said John Chung, Community Health for Asian Americans at the briefing. In both Antioch and Pittsburg, there are nearly or exactly three times as many tobacco retailers as there are schools respectively. Almost half (49%) of Antioch retailers and 61% of Pittsburg retailers selling tobacco products are within 1,000 ft of a youth-sensitive area (school, park, playground, or library). 

The gateway to the arc of addiction starts to reel the children in during early adolescence to a lifetime of addiction. It is this path to destruction that must be nipped in the bud, warned Dr. Phillip Gardiner Ph.D., at the briefing.

“Enough is enough.”


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.


Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...