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Juul CEO out, Altria takes over as big tobacco laughs at our vaping fears and inability to moderate

Phat clouds of confusion.

juul signage
Image: Unsplash

Before we get too far into this, there is no vaping crisis. Not statistically at least. There are bad THC carts out there causing inevitable problems, including a few deaths and a few hundred sicknesses. This is going to happen when people are forced to a secondary market. The other inevitable thing that has happened because of this is that Juul and vaping has been publicly painted as the villain, while cigarettes and alcohol laugh heartily in the corner.

Today, Altria Group, the American tobacco company formerly called Philip Morris USA that produces such popular cigarette brands as Marlboro, Virginia Slims (Kevin’s brand of choice), Benson & Hedges, Merit, and Parliament is involved in two moves to ensure that smoking is the death luxury of choice for Americans and not vaping. First, it will place one of its own people in the place of Juul CEO Kevin Burns, who is exiting the company amid all this faux controversy.

Second, PMI (Philip Morris International) and Altria have ceased merger conversations that would reunite the company. Instead, PMI is going to focus on its IQOS smoking cessation device, recently approved by the FDA for public consumption in America. IQOS, thankfully for PMI, is not appealing to youth vapers (or smokers) and has never run any kind of advertising that would be mistaken as catering to the youth market. Meanwhile, Juul has suspended all advertising as well as lobbying.

So that’s the news, but what’s the truth?

As of right now, we only know what we’re seeing in sensationalist headlines. According to the CDC, there have been seven confirmed deaths in six states. According to the news headlines, it’s nine. It’s likely due to knock-off THC carts rather than nicotine vapes, but there is no definitive proof either way. States are banning vaping in an effort to assuage a panicked and ill-informed public who don’t understand statistics.

Here are some statistics as we’re rushing to ban vaping. Again, according to the CDC, 16 million Americans have some sort of smoking-related disease. But we already know that. We know smoking kills. Walmart sure does, as it has banned the sale of cigarettes. Just kidding. It banned the sale of vapes, which makes no fucking sense at all. And I’m not even going to get into gun violence at a social or statistical level. This whole thing is ridiculous.

The fear surrounds the classic “but what about our children” argument. Listen, kids are always going to do dumb shit. That’s part of being a kid. Is it ok that they die sometimes from it? Hell no. However, you have to find out the reason why. Marijuana remains illegal in most states. Getting knock-off THC carts through some Chinese Instagram account is a great way to put poison into your body. There are so many variables here, but vaping is becoming something worse in the public eye than what it is because we don’t have free access to regulated and tested THC carts (as consumers do in states like California and Colorado).

Take binge drinking, something kids certainly do because they haven’t learned how to moderate yet. Binge drinking, generally affecting the population under the age of 21, results in roughly 88,000 deaths a year and countless more incidents and accidents. Where is the outrage? Where are the parents demanding alcohol be banned? There is none. We’re used to that statistic. We’re used to kids dying from binge drinking and the alcohol and tobacco lobby is so ingrained in American politics that these statistics will never be brought into the vaping conversation.

22 people die from cow-tipping every year. That’s more than double the recorded deaths from vaping. Let’s ban the cows!

K.C. Crosthwaite, the former Chief Growth Officer at Altria who is taking control of Juul nails it in today’s press release. “I have long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products like Juul,” said Crosthwaite. “Unfortunately, today that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry. Against that backdrop, we must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate.”

Basically, Juul has to lobby harder (after these vaping death stories blow over) to become to America what smoking is, something we just accept regardless of the kill count. Do I think kids should vape? No, they shouldn’t do anything that puts their still-developing bodies in harm’s way. Are they going to vape, smoke, drink, and fuck regardless? Yes. So as parents, besides sharing and freaking out after a few news stories about vaping deaths, what can we do? We can teach moderation.

This is really a cautionary tale about moderation

teen filling up vape mod

Image: Unsplash

I have an 18-year-old vape user in my family. He has that thing in his mouth more than a call center employee chews pens. More than a lot lizard at a truck stop at the intersection of I-95 and I-10. More than a French Canadian laborer who smokes four packs of Marlboro Reds a day. The point is, most young adults haven’t learned to moderate. So when something is above the normal level of dangerous or harmful and they are ignorant about those dangers, there is a greater chance they are going to get fucked by it.

I’m not excusing those that are counterfeiting these things and filling them with chemicals and other harmful ingredients. Vapes are already harmful in their own way, certainly over the long-term (even though they haven’t been around long enough to definitively say that, but anything you consume in excess will eventually harm you), and while nicotine vapes are still a healthier alternative to smoking, THC vapes appear to not be a consistent alternative to smoking naturally grown cannabis.

It also raises concerns about buying homemade THC vape carts. Why would you do that? It’s like buying crack-cocaine. Sure, it’s cheaper, but you don’t know what is in there.

So it really comes back to monitoring what you are putting into your body. These cases of vaping illness and death appear to not only have THC vaping in common, but appear to be affecting the young and addicted. That’s a dangerous combination.

While THC vaping offers the benefit of being able to vape anywhere, anytime – it also offers the opportunity to completely abandon moderation. Yes, even THC input needs to be moderated. You can’t even expect to smoke cannabis in the traditional sense all day every day without some adverse side effects. It’s not smoking, but it’s something and too much of anything something can be dangerous.

If you are a parent, be aware of what your child is putting into their body or at least teach them moderation. I can’t stop my kid from vaping, he’s a goddamn adult. I can only hope that the lessons on moderation that I’ve passed down can help him avoid ending up hooked to tubes in the hospital. I’d prefer he quit, but that’s hard for me to take the high ground on that since I’m a tobacco user. But also being sober for nearly nine years (and him seeing the effects alcohol had on me) might add to the moderation lesson.

If you are a young person getting into THC vaping, don’t fucking suck on that thing all goddamn day long. Also, make sure you are buying legit products and not something your sketchy friend of a friend made in their basement. There is always going to be someone out there mixing chemicals for a counterfeit product in order to save a buck. While you can’t test everything you buy, maybe switch back to cannabis flower for a bit. Learn how to make a bong out of a Mountain Dew bottle. That’s a life skill that will do you well.

I’m not advocating quitting THC vape carts completely, there are still plenty of regulated and legitimate businesses that sell them in the states where it’s allowed. I’m saying be cautious about what you put in your body. If it seems shady, skip it. Better safe than having your lungs fall apart because of fungicide in your THC cart.

Bottom line: If you don’t smoke, don’t start vaping

If you are trying to quit smoking, vaping is still less harmful than smoking, just moderate. If you are using THC carts, make sure they are legit. If you react to sensationalist headlines with shock and awe, take a look around your world, learn statistics and figure out what these stories are really about. Altria, a tobacco company that is nationally accepted with its annual kill count, owns the most popular vape brand that is under fire for a number of deaths that are surprising and suddenly making it public enemy number one.

Vapes are being banned before cigarettes after single-digit deaths. Think about that and what that means if vaping is no longer a viable alternative to smoking and all the kids and adults that are used to nonstop vaping. Imagine cigarettes being used like vapes. Imagine vaping addicts now being forced onto the secondary market. This is not a sustainable solution.

We should care about these deaths, we should be concerned because they are affecting the youth, but we should also be skeptical of where this is leading and how much control big tobacco has over the narrative (remember, Altria basically owns nicotine vaping in America). We should think about how the legalization of marijuana across the country affects the quality of THC carts and the secondary market. We should also consider moderation and how we should have ultimate control over what we put in our bodies, even if it kills a few of us. Or in the case of smoking, a few million of us.

What do you think? Agree with what I’m saying or am I just blowing smoke? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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