Vape influencers say they’re the real victims of vaping illness crisis

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Tobacco companies aren’t the only ones profiting from the dangerous vaping trend.

When vaping illness struck America this summer, it brought e-cigarette culture — once a niche trend among the Instagram generation — into the spotlight. The mysterious sickness, now formally called EVALI (short for e-cigarette or vaping-product use associated lung injury) and suspected to be caused by bad additives in black-market THC vapes, has claimed at least 26 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 1,299 cases of the disease have been reported in 49 states. In response to the crisis, the FDA announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes because of their effect on public health, with local governments already enacting such legislation.

The crisis also exposed the seedy marketing tactics vaping companies use to reach teens.

Vape influencers — young people paid to promote vaping products on social media — have raked in thousands of dollars hawking their smoking habit to followers.

Victoria Williams, a 26-year-old based in Savannah, Georgia, with 58,000 Instagram followers, initially started vaping to kick her cigarette habit. For a year, she earned a decent living, being paid $20 to $300 per post — about $3,500 a month — by companies such as Skol Pods and Craze Liquids.

A typical post shows the tattooed Williams lounging outdoors, vape in hand.

“I [was] making enough to pay my rent and my bills, and [to] have a little extra to put in savings,” Williams says.

In July, a congressional report found that Juul Labs Inc. had spent more than $200,000 to recruit influencers and market to young people. Now, the FDA, Federal Trade Commission and Congress are all investigating the social media marketing of e-cigs.

“It’s clear that vaping is not safe,” says Joanna Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She believes that many vapefluencers are well aware of this, and glamorize the habit — whether they mean to or not. “It’s not always overt advertising,” she says. “It’s the messaging that these products are normal consumer products that someone might want to use.”

Read full article here.

Suzy Weiss – NY Post – October 15, 2019.

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