I recently had a startling experience.
For some background, I am a fan of the television show “The Wilds” on Amazon Prime (I highly recommend it), and one day a few weeks ago I decided to watch an Instagram Live chat between two of the cast members. Both are attractive women in their early 20s with wide followings on social media.
About halfway through the Live, one of the actresses asks the other what she is vaping. Both women bring out vapes and show them off to the audience, announcing the brands and flavors.
Paid promotion of vaping is illegal, and so this off-the-cuff non-sequitur of e-cigarette use shocked me. Before this day I had never seen any social media influencers or celebrities I follow promote vaping like this or mention it in any positive light. The flagrant, boastful nature of vape use continues throughout both of their social media profiles, as well as the use of cigarettes and alcohol.
This was an interesting and demoralizing interaction, and it has made me think. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have seen the Instagram Live on YouTube alone, and I am sure that many of them were teenagers, given that is the target audience of their TV show. Although it was only for a few minutes of the hour-long conversation, the clear promotion can leave an impact on such an impressionable audience.
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I find this behavior to be irresponsible and dangerous. They say things like, “sometimes I really miss smoking, and then I’m like, nah ... smoking’s really bad for you, that’s why we stopped. I listened to conversations of when we were talking in New Zealand, and our voices were like so hoarse.”
While this condemns smoking cigarettes, it fails to mention the adverse health effects and addictive nature of vaping. They use relaxed and excited tones when asking “what puff do you have” and when showing off their apple and mint flavors.
Vaping is an epidemic in our nation, especially among teens. Youth e-cigarette use has increased 1,800% between 2011 and 2019, and in 2019 about 37% of American high school seniors admitted to vaping at least once in the past year. Vapes contain high levels of nicotine, metal particles and other dangerous chemicals that have led to more than 2,800 hospitalizations as of February 2020, according to the CDC.
By promoting vaping to a young, impressionable audience from a position of fame, these women added one more appeal to the already dangerously popular e-cigarette usage in American teens. While I understand that these actresses did not mean to cause harm to anyone, vaping needs to be taken for the serious danger it is and not casually shown off as fun and harmless.
Celebrities, those with influence over teens, and all people need to take the threat of vaping seriously. Be it on social media, when talking with friends or acting as a parent/guardian, everyone should address the harmful impacts of vaping in order to slow the growth of this epidemic.
Ellie Knapp is a junior at Carlisle High School. She is an active member of the Cumberland County Youth Advisory Board and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. Ellie was also selected as one of five students from Pennsylvania as an ambassador for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.