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FDA Launches Campaign Against Teen Vaping Epidemic

FDA Launches Campaign Against Teen Vaping Epidemic

Campaign will target kids on their phones and in school bathrooms


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched an aggressive new campaign against what it considers to be the next epidemic to hit teenagers and middle schoolers: vaping.

This campaign uses snark, scare tactics and jarring visual imagery to send the message in both traditional and high-tech channels.

In addition to commercials, the FDA will take the message that vaping is dangerous into the very place underage vapers notoriously go to take a hitthe school bathroom. Anti-vaping posters will be plastered in more than 10,000 school bathrooms nationwide.

The campaign, an extension of the FDA’s anti-smoking campaign,“The Real Cost,” also takes full advantage of technology by utilizing geotracking to target the social media feeds of at-risk youths in and around schools. Ads will also be placed on the school websites used by students to view their grades or get assignments.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the skyrocketing numbers of teens vaping over the last five years spurred the agency to undertake a quick and powerful response.

“We’ve had to start taking some actions before the final results of this data can be made public. We will make these results public very soon. But we have an obligation to act on what we know. And what we know is very disturbing,” Gottlieb said.

The PSAs are far edgier than the FDA’s past anti-tobacco campaigns. Posters in bathrooms will state: “Strangely enough, some kids come here to put crap into their bodies.”

The videos also show young vapers with face and body disfigurement. This direction was likely spurred by studies that show teens are more impacted by messages that target their physical appearance than those that target their overall health.


In the first video released this week, like something out of a horror movie, we see young people’s faces and bodies warp as an insidious invader crawls under their skin. That graphic image is followed by a shot of swarming, infectious parasites. The final frame shows each of the victims vaping before it cuts to black.

We give the FDA gets credit for its quick and decisive action and for leveraging technology and social media. They also get props for being clever enough to use such an innovative and apopros channel for their messaging (the school bathroom.)

However, using physical disfigurement as a metaphor for the harm that children may be incurring by vaping is a questionable choice. We hope it works. But we worry the melodramatic scare tactics could actually end up discrediting the actual truth behind message: E-cigarettes are unsafe for young people. Most e-cigs contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. Therefore, vaping before adulthood is a stupid choice. (We added that last part.)

Our fear is that when young people (who are quite media savvy and sophisticated by the way) figure out they won’t actually end up looking like the girl from The Ring horror movie by vaping, they might they also disregard the underlying, true and critical message.