Celebrity makes appearance at WW to warn against vaping

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Moses Jones’s acting career has taken him well beyond his start as a kid in Indianapolis. He’s been in a variety of movies and shows, including “Night School,” “The Hate U Give” and “The Bobby Brown Story,” along with music videos and more. He hasn’t forgotten his Hoosier roots, however, and returned to work with VOICE Indiana, a statewide “youth empowerment brand” aimed at helping teens advocate against tobacco to speak to youth about the dangers of vaping and, in particular, JUUL devices.

Speaking out against smoking and tobacco use is nothing new for Jones. He was making rap videos about the dangers of second-hand smoking as a teen.

“I’ve been blessed and busy this year, so when they called me with the opportunity to come back here and rap with you guys and talk about some real-life issues that are happening, I called my agent and my manager and told them I’m going to have to put the rest of what I’m doing on hold for a minute,” he told West Washington students when he visited in November. “I gotta come back to Indiana to talk to the family. My goal today is to give you guys some information, some facts. Whatever decision you decide to make after today, I want to rest assured that I was able to come back to my home state and give you both sides of the story.”

The way students did at other presentations at local schools about vaping, almost every, if not every, student raised their hands when Jones asked who had seen or heard of e-cigarettes.

“Everybody’s heard of these things!” Jones said. “We all know these things are set up to deliver nicotine and other chemicals in the form of a vape. That’s the sell, right? ‘It’s just vapor! It’s harmless!’ Let me let you guys know, whether it’s JUULing, whether it’s e-cigarettes, vaping, whatever you call this thing, this thing is just as harmful to your body as cigarettes, and sometimes, it’s even more.”

Compared to the number of students who raised their hands about having seen or used a vaping device, only a small number said they had done any investigating into how vaping could affect a user physically.

“I’m not judging you,” said Jones to those who hadn’t looked into the consequences of vaping. “There’s nothing out there that would have told you to go check out what this product is, to go see what happens when you use it, to see what it does to your body.”

Jones showed a video showing various advertisements for JUUL, most of which are difficult to tell what is actually being advertised. It showed various media clips from news broadcasts talking about them, offered statistics about the skyrocketing value of the JUUL brand (currently worth about $16 billion), along with all of the ways JUUL is advertised subliminally, including music videos, television and movies, to people of all ages, including kids and teens. The narrator discussed the design of the product and that design’s impact on its use and sales.

“The same features that make JUUL a well-designed product also make them attractive to young people, many of whom have never smoked before and that has people worried, because devices like JUUL may have been designed to help smokers get off cigarettes, but they’re addicting a new generation to nicotine,” said the narrator.

The narrator went on to say part of JUUL’s success is that, instead of looking like an e-cigarette, it looks like a tech product, likely due in no small part to the fact its design team pulled in designers from Apple. The diminuitive size of the JUUL device makes them easy to hide, both from authority figures who would take them away and the social stigma teens expect from smoking.

“People call JUUL ‘the iPhone of e-cigs,’” the narrator said. “This wasn’t smoking or vaping. It’s JUULing.”

The video said some advertising for JUUL and products like it feature testimonials from ex-smokers who praise vaping as a means of breaking their addiction with incendiary cigarettes. However, early ads for JUUL products showed a striking similarity to the early ads for cigarettes, showing scenes of relaxation or happy social interactions, travel, freedom and sex appeal.

“It’s now illegal for cigarette brands to use these kinds of suggestive advertising, but for e-cigarette manufacturers who had their device on the market before 2016, those strategies are still unregulated,” the narrator said.

The video said typical e-cigarettes have between six and 30 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of vape liquid. JUULS have about 59 milligrams of nicotine per pod, three times the amount of nicotine permitted by the European Union, which is why JUUL isn’t sold there.

“Here in the US, e-cigarettes don’t have the same restrictions, even though we know nicotine dependency can prime developing brains for future substance abuse disorders,” said the narrator.

Most e-cigarettes basically allow users to freebase nicotine, but JUUL uses nicotine salts, allowing the nicotine to be absorbed at the same rate as incendiary cigarettes, much faster than most e-cigarettes. Also, the experience of using the nicotine salt is smoother than that of freebasing, allowing for more nicotine consumption in a more pleasant hit, making them alarmingly attractive to kids and teens.

In response to concerns about nicotine addiction in kids and teens, the maker of JUUL, Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris Companies), pledged $30 million to combat underage use. Merchandise and advertising materials now have warning labels, like cigarette advertisements do.

“JUUL, like other e-cigarettes, might have started out to try to solve a public health problem, but in a lot of ways, their product has created a new one,” the narrator said.

“We still don’t know what the long-term results are of vaping,” said Moses. “Everybody knows what JUUL is, but nobody knows what JUUL is. It’s unregulated. There’s no real way to know what is in these pods. They don’t have to release that to you.”

He said more than 60 percent of JUUL users, when polled, didn’t know that all JUUL products contain nicotine.

One of the myths Moses mentioned is that JUUL pods are a safer alternative to smoking. He went up to one of the girls and said if he offered her a cup of half-water, half-bleach, she would refuse, right?

“It’s safer than a whole cup of bleach, though, right?” he said. He repeated the example with sewage. Water with only two drops of sewage would be safer than a full cup, right?

“Safer does not mean safe,” he said. “The bottom line — there are no safe tobacco products. This stuff damages your blood vessels, weakens your immune system, it makes you four times more likely to start smoking [regular] cigarettes.”

He also brought up the recent concerns over accidents and illnesses caused by vape pens and vaping. Vape pens have exploded or overheated and caused serious facial and hand burns to users. Major and sometimes fatal respiratory conditions have been solidly tied to vaping.

“People are dying from using vape products,” he said. “This is a serious situation. The thing that’s funny about it is when they were marketing it to you guys, they were all over social media, all over the internet. They were on the apps and sites you guys frequent. But when it came time for you to know about the real-life things that were happening to people who use it, it was showing up in places you guys don’t frequent as often. News sites and newspapers. That’s not by accident. They knew they had to protect their core market. They couldn’t put that kind of information out there for you to see.”

Returning to his roots of speaking out against second-hand smoke, Moses told students about the aerosol that takes the place of second-hand smoke with vaping.

“Too many people feel like, as long as they’re not using the vape, they’re good,” he said. “… In that aerosol, we’ve got tons of chemicals, chemicals like nicotine, like cancer-causing agents, like flavorings like diacetyl, a flavoring that has been linked to serious lung disease. But you’re not going to see that advertised because vape products are unregulated.”

Moses said cigarette companies had to be sued into disclosing their products caused cancer and other illnesses and fought for more than 10 years to avoid informing the public after being sentenced to do so by the courts. Moses showed a video of an ad they evenutally released, in stark contrast to the colorful, more alluring ads for their products designed by “the most creative, influential marketing people on the planet,” said Moses. The ad had a plain white background with black text. All emphasis was present in the ad, which you can see above.

“A Federal Court has ordered Philip Morris USA, Lorillard, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and Altria to make this statement about the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine,” the ad said. “Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco. Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction. It’s not easy to quit. When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain — that’s why quitting is so hard.”

The companies mentioned were also required to make other similar ads about the health effects of smoking and more.

“Can you guys imagine if all commercials looked like this?” Moses asked. “… They wanted you to disengage and not pay attention. At the bottom of the screen, they say, ‘By court order,’ meaning we’re only doing this because they told us we had to … At the end of the day, this huge conglomerate of companies had to admit they’d been putting out deadly products for years.”

Nicotine takes seven seconds to reach the brain, Moses said.

“It impacts your impulses, your emotions — the reason this is important for you guys right now is that part of your brain doesn’t finish developing until you’re 25,” Moses said. “These companies know if they get this nicotine in your body now, while you’re growing and your brain is developing, your body will start to say it can’t function correctly without this product. It’s something you were doing just to have fun and make the air smell good, but now it’s something you have to do every day instead of just every so often, then needing to do it every few hours. That’s what we call addiction and nicotine is one of the top five hardest addictions to break in the world … These companies know they’re creating a life-long customer … Your age group is 16 times more likely to vape than adults. That’s the truth of it. Teens use this product.”

Moses said the United States had come very close to eliminating teen cigarette use, dropping it to less than 6%  and less than 2% of middle schoolers. Currently, the number of high schoolers using JUUL products is around 18.5% and 5.5% in middle schoolers, but that number is growing.

“They’re gonna get you guys,” said Moses. “… The flavors. They know that’s the thing that appeals to you guys. By 2017, there were more than 15,500 flavors of vape juice. They pull one off the shelf and 10 more pop back up … San Francisco passed an ordinance last year to ban all flavored vape products. R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest tobacco company in the country, put up $12 million to overturn that campaign. That’s one city among more than 19,000 cities in our country and they put up $12 million. We have anti-tobacco, anti-vaping campaigns popping up every day and I promise you, they’re not spending $12 million on every campaign.”

Moses again showed the advertising used to promote JUUL and other vaping products, how companies send the products to and pay Instagram influencers and popular TikTok accounts, asking them to use the products in their videos.

“It’s not marketed to us,” said Moses. “It’s completely marketed to teens. Tobacco companies believe they have their next generation of customers. They believe they have you guys hooked in already. What we believe is that teens control how these products work. Yeah, the rates are skyrocketing, but the flipside of that shows that the majority of you still aren’t using them. You guys still control the narrative.”

He encouraged students to reject the call to be a part of that customer base and start working to help others do likewise.

Why is this so important to Moses? Why would a seventh grader start giving presentations on second-hand smoke and smoking? It goes back to his mother, who started smoking when she was 16.

“My mother was deathly addicted to nicotine,” he said. “Doctors told her last year, ‘You’re not going to get to see your grandkids grow up.’ My kids are 4 and 7. That’s how bad nicotine was — it started to corrode her heart and lungs. I don’t know how much time they can give her. I’m here today, giving you this information so you can go out and help somebody take their life back.”

For teens addicted to nicotine, they can text 88709 for information on how to quit. Those interested in partnering with VOICE Indiana’s efforts to promote a smoke-free lifestyle can connect with VOICE on Twitter at @VoiceIndiana.

In October, the West Washington board heard from Assistant Principal Brad Mills about the vaping situation at the school and pledged up to $10,000 to assist in vaping intervention and another $5,000 for administration and staff to spend at their discretion. Mills talked about various products that could detect vaping aerosols in places where cameras couldn’t be placed, such as bathrooms, where students would likely to go to vape on school property.


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