Monday February 18, 2019

E-cigarette And Vaporizer Sellers Started Offering College Scholarships

Alcohol makers have same program

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Vaping, teeth,e-cigarette, cigarettes
In this Feb. 20, 2014 file photo, a customer exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at a store in New York. A growing number of e-cigarette and vaporizer sellers have started offering college scholarships as a way to get their brands listed on university websites. VOA

A growing number of e-cigarette and vaporizer sellers have started offering college scholarships as a way to get their brands listed on university websites and to get students to write essays about the potential benefits of vaping.

The tactic is taken from a method that was once believed to improve a site’s ranking in search results, and it has successfully landed vaping brands on the sites of some of the nation’s best-known universities, including Harvard. It also has drawn criticism that the scholarships are a thinly disguised ploy to attract young customers.

The scholarships, ranging from $250 to $5,000, mostly involve essay contests that ask students to write about the dangers of tobacco or whether vaping could be a safer alternative. At least one company asks applicants to write about different types of e-cigarettes and which one they recommend. Some seek papers in support of medical marijuana.

Over the last two years, the grants have been posted online by e-cigarette retailers and review websites such as Slick Vapes, SmokeTastic and DaVinci Vaporizer.

Scholarship offers removed

Robert Pagano, owner of the Las Vegas-based review site Vapor Vanity, said he was offering new scholarships of up to $1,500 this year. He acknowledged it’s partly a marketing tool, but he also says many in the industry are former smokers and want to help teens avoid tobacco.

“It’s a little bit of being genuine, a little bit of self-interest,” said Pagano, whose company does not sell vaping products. “This is probably the best way to get people to actually focus on the issues that we’re trying to write about.”

Days after Pagano was interviewed by The Associated Press, the scholarships were removed from his site without explanation. He did not return calls or emails seeking further comment.

The grants have emerged as high schools struggle to rein in booming teen use of the devices, sometimes threatening students with suspensions or installing alarms that can detect the devices’ discreet vapor. Federal agencies have attempted to crack down on underage sales and are investigating marketing efforts by the brand Juul, which has become especially popular among teens.

Although some of the scholarships are limited to students 18 and older — the nation’s legal age to buy vaping products — many are open to younger teens or have no age limit.

Most companies behind the essay contests did not return calls or declined interview requests. But the American Vaping Association trade group defended the practice, saying it allows companies to boost their brand while offering college students a helping hand.

e-Cigarette
e-Cigarette, Pixabay

Alcohol makers have same program

The head of the association, Gregory Conley, compared it with scholarship programs that have long been offered by alcohol makers like Anheuser-Busch, which distributes tens of thousands of dollars each year for minority students.

Some anti-tobacco groups were unaware of the scholarships until asked about them by the AP, but they sharply criticized efforts to get teens writing in favor of vaping.

“They’re trying to use youth as their marketing surrogates,” said Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm in Washington. “They can gussy it up any way they want, try to put lipstick on that pig, but this is about marketing.”

Opponents said the scholarships could test federal rules forbidding tobacco and e-cigarette companies from marketing to minors. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulation of e-cigarettes, declined to comment on the question and referred a reporter to the Federal Trade Commission. An FTC spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Long-term effects an unknown

Most medical experts agree that vaping is safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, but little is known about its long-term health effects.

Manufacturers often say vaping products are meant only for adults trying to quit smoking, and some of the essay contests note that they aren’t meant to promote vaping. But some anti-tobacco groups say there’s no other reason the companies would reach out to young people.

“Most of these kids are not smokers,” said Robin Koval, president of the Truth Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes the tobacco and vaping industries. “What they’re saying and what they’re doing don’t seem to agree here. But that’s not surprising.”

It’s unclear how many — if any — of the scholarships have been awarded. Several websites promise to publicize winners and their essays, but it doesn’t appear any have done so. None of the 15 companies contacted by the AP would disclose winners, and only one agreed to an interview.

Marketing experts say the vaping industry isn’t the first to use college scholarships as a form of cheap advertising. The internet is teeming with similar offers from websites that sell weight-loss pills and protein powders, as well as payday lenders and companies that pay cash for gold.

 

‘Backdoor’ approach

The tactic was created years ago, at a time when websites thought getting their link on a college or government site would boost their rankings in Google search results. Some created scholarships purely to get their links on university financial-aid pages.

“This is almost a backdoor way to get your name on a university website, and from the point of view of the student, it would look like the university is supporting this effort,” said Ron Berman, who teaches marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school.

The tactic worked. Vaping scholarships have ended up on financial-aid directories compiled by Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and others, including institutions that have taken a stance against e-cigarettes.

Harvard and California State University at Long Beach immediately removed the listings after being asked about them by the AP, saying they had been posted inadvertently.

“We’re not interested in being a platform for tobacco or vaping,” said Jeff Bliss, a spokesman for CSU Long Beach.

Vape
Vape, pixabay

Outdated strategy?

Some marketing firms advise against the strategy, calling it outdated. Google has updated its algorithm to defeat similar tactics, and it penalizes sites that try to manipulate search rankings.

Wil Reynolds, founder of the Philadelphia-based marketing agency Seer Interactive, said his company employed the strategy years ago for clients connected to the education world, but he abandoned it after other industries started exploiting it.

Also read: Is vaping safer than smoking

It is a shady practice when you really can’t back it up with a legitimate reason,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

E-Cigarettes Twice As Effective In Helping Smokers Quit: Study

Ian Armitage was skeptical about e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking, saying he tried vaping several years ago but gave it up.

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E-cigarettes, Smokers
A woman smokes an electronic cigarette in London, Aug. 19, 2015. VOA

A major new study provides the strongest evidence yet that vaping can help smokers quit cigarettes, with e-cigarettes proving nearly twice as effective as nicotine gums and patches.

The British research, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, could influence what doctors tell their patients and shape the debate in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration has come under pressure to more tightly regulate the burgeoning industry amid a surge in teenage vaping.

“We know that patients are asking about e-cigarettes and many doctors haven’t been sure what to say,” said Dr. Nancy Rigotti, a tobacco treatment specialist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study. “I think they now have more evidence to endorse e-cigarettes.”

At the same time, Rigotti and other experts cautioned that no vaping products have been approved in the U.S. to help smokers quit.

e-cigarette, smokers
Packages of flavored liquids for e-cigarettes are seen displayed at a smoke shop in New York City. VOA

 

Top cause of preventable death

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death worldwide, blamed for nearly 6 million deaths a year. Quitting is notoriously difficult, even with decades-old nicotine aids and newer prescription drugs. More than 55 percent of U.S. smokers try to quit each year, and only about 7 percent succeed, according to government figures.

Electronic cigarettes, which have been available in the U.S. since about 2007 and have grown into a $6.6 billion-a-year industry, are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor.

Most experts agree the vapor is less harmful than cigarette smoke since it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of the chemicals in the vapor, some of which are toxic.

At the same time, there have been conflicting studies on whether e-cigarettes actually help smokers kick the habit. Last year, an influential panel of U.S. experts concluded there was only “limited evidence” of their effectiveness.

In the new study, researchers tracked nearly 900 middle-age smokers who were randomly assigned to receive either e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement products, including patches, gums and lozenges. After one year, 18 percent of e-cigarette users were smoke-free, versus 9.9 percent of those using the other products.

“Anything which helps smokers to avoid heart disease and cancer and lung disease is a good thing, and e-cigarettes can do that,” said Peter Hajek, study co-author and an addiction specialist at Queen Mary University of London.

e-cigarette, cigarettes
Customers puff on e-cigarettes at the Henley Vaporium in New York City. VOA

More rigorous

The study was more rigorous than previous ones, which largely surveyed smokers about e-cigarette use. Participants in this experiment underwent chemical breath testing.

Smokers in the e-cigarette group received a $26 starter kit, while those in the nicotine-replacement group received a three-month supply of the product of their choice, costing about $159. Participants were responsible for buying follow-up supplies.

“If you have a method of helping people with smoking cessation that is both more effective and less costly, that should be of great interest to anyone providing health services,” said Kenneth Warner, a retired University of Michigan public health professor who was not involved in the study.

Several factors may have boosted the results: All the participants were recruited from a government smoking-cessation program and were presumably motivated to quit. They also received four weeks of anti-smoking counseling.

The researchers didn’t test e-cigarettes against new drugs such as Pfizer’s Chantix, which has shown higher rates of success than older nicotine-based treatments.

Funding for the study came from the British government, which has embraced e-cigarettes as a potential tool to combat smoking through state-run health services. Some of the authors have been paid consultants to makers of anti-smoking products.

e-cigarette, vaping
In this April 11, 2018, photo, an unidentified 15-year-old high school student uses a vaping device near the school’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. Health and education officials across the country are raising alarms over wide underage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products. The devices heat liquid into an inhalable vapor that’s sold in sugary flavors like mango and mint — and often with the addictive drug nicotine. VOA

Long-term questions

U.S. health authorities have been more reluctant about backing the products, in part because of the long-term effects are unknown.

“We need more studies about their safety profile, and I don’t think anyone should be changing practice based on one study,” said Belinda Borrelli, a psychologist specializing in smoking cessation at Boston University.

The American Heart Association backed e-cigarettes in 2014 as a last resort to help smokers quit after trying counseling and approved products. The American Cancer Society took a similar position last year.

An editorial accompanying the study and co-written by Borrelli recommended e-cigarettes only after smokers have tried and failed to quit with FDA-approved products. Also, doctors should have a clear timeline for stopping e-cigarette use.

Borrelli noted that after one year, 80 percent of the e-cigarette users in the study were still using the devices. Nine percent of the participants in the other group were still using gums and other nicotine-replacement products.

E-cigarettes, Smokers
Talia Eisenberg, co-founder of the Henley Vaporium, uses her vaping device in New York, Feb. 20, 2014. VOA

No vaping company has announced plans to seek FDA approval of its products as a quit-smoking aid. Winning such an endorsement would require large studies that can take years and cost millions of dollars.

The FDA has largely taken a hands-off approach toward vaping. It has not scientifically reviewed any of the e-cigarettes on the market and has put off some key regulations until 2022. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said he doesn’t want to over-regulate an emerging industry that could provide a safer option for adult smokers.

The delay has come under intense criticism amid an explosion in teenage vaping, driven chiefly by devices like Juul, which resembles a flash drive. Federal law prohibits sales to those under 18, but 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping last year, according to a government survey. It showed teenage use surged 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Tank vs. cartridge

Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids noted that the British study used so-called tank-based e-cigarettes, which allow users to customize their flavors and nicotine levels. Those devices have largely been overtaken in the U.S. by Juul and similar devices that have prefilled nicotine cartridges, or pods. Any benefit of e-cigarettes depends on the individual product and how it is used, he said.

“It is a fundamental mistake to think that all e-cigarettes are alike,” Myers said. “And in the absence of FDA regulation, a consumer has no way of knowing if the product they are using has the potential to help them or not.”

e-cigarette
E-cigarette additives impair lung function: Study.

Myers’ group is one of several anti-smoking organizations suing the FDA to immediately begin reviewing e-cigarettes.

Ian Armitage was skeptical about e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking, saying he tried vaping several years ago but gave it up after experiencing twitching and shakes from nicotine withdrawal.

Also Read: Daily Cigarette Smoker Develop Greater Risks of Heart Attack, Says Study

`I tried it for a whole month, but it just wasn’t doing it for me,” said Armitage, an audio-visual technician in Washington. “I still wanted a cigarette afterward.”

Armitage, who has smoked for 15 years, said he also tried nicotine patches but found they irritated his skin. (VOA)