October 8, 2018

Meet the Rich Moms Who Want to Ban Vaping

Every good moral panic needs frightened and outraged parents. And every group of frightened and outraged parents includes a few that want to organize and lead a movement, usually dedicated to abstinence and piety.

Meet Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes. Formed this year at the height of JUUL fever, PAVe (that’s how they spell it) is led by wealthy and influential New Yorkers who take their moralistic war on vaping very seriously, or at least they seem like they do. And unlike an organization you might start with a couple of your friends, this one immediately grabbed national press exposure.

“Meredith Berkman, a mother of four, says she couldn’t sit and wait for the government to stop kids from using Juul,” says a CBS This Morning story from Aug.28. “So she and two other moms recently launched the grassroots group Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes to educate about the dangers of e-cigarettes, advocate against their use and lobby for legislative action.”

The messages on the PAVe website are unlikely to convince teenagers, but they may scare parents. “YOU GOT JUULED,” goes one. “Some rich dudes put a sleek electronic costume on a regular old cigarette and you’re puffing on it like it’s oxygen. Hate to break it to you but…you just got JUULed.” It’s funny to hear the richest people in the country accuse the JUUL founders of being “rich dudes” trying to fool the public.

Money and position tend to get the attention of politicians and the mainstream press.

PAVe has an impressive advisory board, led by Stanford psychologist Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, an anti-vaping activist whose recent work has analyzed e-cigarette advertising. She also developed the California Tobacco Prevention Toolkit for the state’s tobacco tax-funded Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program. Halpern-Fisher’s involvement probably explains why all of PAVe’s “websites we like” page are from California.

The advisory board also includes two pediatricians, a child psychiatrist, and the vice chancellor of a private school — with campuses in New York, London, Seoul, Shanghai, and Dubai — that is “dedicated to igniting the spark of genius in every child.” Well, maybe not every child — just the ones whose parents can afford $46,900 a year for kindergarten tuition.

Private schools and pediatricians are at the heart of the JUUL panic, so PAVe definitely has the right advisors. They have connections too. A Google search of PAVe’s founders returns lots of charity luncheons and benefit “galas” hosted in homes in the Hamptons, and husbands who are high-powered investors. There are images of PAVe co-founder Meredith Berkman posing with then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has since become the largest funder of anti-vaping tobacco control activism in the world.

Doctor-investor-Trump appointee Gottlieb has a whole lot more in common with rich Westchester volunteer activists than he does with vapers or smokers.

These are wealthy people with influence, and they’re used to getting their way. Meredith Berkman once sued a snack food manufacturer for $50 million because a product’s nutritional content label was incorrect. The resulting weight gain caused her “mental anguish, outrage and indignation,” she claimed, and the company recalled the product.

The founders are not above using their own kids as props to drive the anti-vaping campaign. They name them and feature them in multiple pictures on the site. They also recount how their sons testified at a Westchester County Tobacco 21 hearing. (Advisor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher hasn’t shied away from involving her daughter in her advocacy work either.)

“In June 2018, PAVe sponsored an ‘iphone-athon’ in support of a bill that would ban the sale and distribution of flavored e-cigarette pods in New York state,” says the PAVe site. “We organized dozens of like-minded people—including teens recruited by our kids, who spent the day alongside us—send emails and make phone calls lobbying for legislators to pass this important bill that ultimately was defeated. We will fight for this bill until it passes and will lend our support to any other legislation that aims to restrict the marketing and sales of JUUL and other e-cigarettes to our kids.”

If you think PAVe is a joke, remember that people laughed at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union too — until they helped push the country to support a Constitutional amendment that banned alcohol for a decade. The moral panic around marijuana in the 1930’s led to prohibition around the world that’s still going strong in most states and countries. Commissioner Gottlieb already wants to take the nicotine out of cigarettes. Think it couldn’t go further?

If vaping doesn’t stop playing defense, terrible things will keep happening.

The anti-juuling moms are promoting an email campaign to pressure FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to ban flavors and online sales immediately — as Gottlieb has already threatened to do. The letter is heavy on emotion and light on substance, but that doesn’t mean the FDA chief won’t take the authors seriously. Doctor-investor-Trump appointee Gottlieb has a whole lot more in common with rich Westchester volunteer activists than he does with vapers or smokers.

Dear Commissioner Gottlieb,

I am writing to you today as a concerned parent and also as a member of the grassroots advocacy group, Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes (PAVe). I am deeply worried about what you have publicly referred to as the “epidemic” of e-cigarette, and specifically JUUL, use by kids across the country.

As you know, e-cigarette companies use candy-like flavors to lure our children into trying their highly-addictive products that contain as much nicotine as 1.5 packs of cigarettes. Extensive research has shown that nicotine exposure during adolescence will adversely affect cognitive function and development of the developing brain, and will re-wire it for other types of addiction.

Since JUUL, other e-cigarettes, and their ‘pods’ are available online, our children are able to buy them (often in bulk) without our knowledge. And, we all know that vape shops do not bother to check kids’ IDs to make sure they are at least 18.

Kids across the country are JUULing everywhere – at home, at school, in the streets – and they are becoming addicted in record numbers! The verb “to JUUL” has become part of our vocabulary.

On September 19, you announced that e-cigarette companies have 60 days to present plans to solve this. Why are we waiting even one more day?? Each day that passes brings us one step closer to having an entire generation of kids addicted to nicotine!

We implore you to regulate e-cigarette companies like JUUL and ban all flavors and online sales immediately – Please save our children!

The well-connected PAVe founders are already being heard. Aside from the CBS This Morning media debut, they’re featured in a Wall Street Journal article — and you can bet there will be lots more news coverage to come. Money and position tend to get the attention of politicians and the mainstream press. And the FDA has already shown it is willing to pitch in with its own extreme anti-vaping propaganda.

They’ve got a readymade constituency of like-minded helicopter parents around the country willing to take up torches and pitchforks and join in the attack. Vapers — and especially the vaping industry — don’t have much of a response either. Helping smokers improve their health, tobacco harm reduction, and “adult choice” will lose to saving the children every time. We need better arguments.

Where is JUUL’s campaign in defense of innovation? Where are the trade groups telling the world that vapers have a right not to smoke? Where are the juuling college students standing up and saying there’s no shame in vaping, that nicotine is a good thing? Where are the sympathetic academic experts telling their colleagues that most tobacco control science is junk? If vaping doesn’t stop playing defense, terrible things will keep happening. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s getting worse every day.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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1

Unfortunately, these women have nothing better to do with their time than to stick their pointy little noses up everyone’s ass. They are raising the future investors of America (we all know how moral most hedge fund investors are). These women are that 1% who look down on the mere peasants and feel the over-whelming need to save us from ourselves. They need to wake up and start looking at who is actually raising their kids and stay out of other people’s lives.

2

It makes me laugh regarding groups such as this who want an end to vaping whilst they are sat smoking their actual cigarettes and consuming a substantial amount of alcohol each day. Good luck worrying about vaping whilst that Alcohol destroys your liver.

Jim McDonald
Author3

I doubt if any of these people have ever smoked a cigarette — or even met someone else who smokes cigarettes.

4

I’m tired of parents not doing their job and being fully informed about vaping versus smoking. I know as a mother who had the converstation with my son about vaping, that the best I could do for my son if he was intending on vaping was to make him really do his research.

As parents the best we can do is have a talk about making healthy choices. Sure, we don’t want our kids to have any unhealthy habits. But, teenagers are going to rebel against adults, mainly their parents…because it’s in the nature of being that age. But, if they felt they could talk to their parents, do their own research on both smoking and vaping, they’d see how the latter is healthier than smoking, but we as parents rather they didn’t do either. But, if my son was going to do one over the other, I’d rather it be vaping. Having an open conversation like my son had with me and his father, resulted in lifestyle changes for the whole family.

As the mother of a 19 year old son who at the age of 17, was mature enough to ask me and his father what we thought about him getting a vape pen, we didn’t immediately shut him down. First of all, we were impressed that he felt he could talk to us instead of sneaking behind our backs. We told him that he needed to do research on vaping versus smoking. In his research, we told him he needed to do the following and come back with his research and be prepared to back it up with web links or books so we could see for ourselves. We asked the following of him: 1)The dangers of vaping versus smoking, 2)He needed to research addiction to nicotine and let us know if it was his intention to get e-liquid with nicotine in it, and 3)He needed to give us two solid benefits of vaping.

So, we told him to get busy with his research on it and if he still wanted a vape pen, then we would see about getting him one. Our son came back almost a month later (by taking as much time as he did with his research, we could tell he really thought this through.) He presented to us how vaping was a much better habit over smoking, how it had 3-4 ingredients over cigarettes having almost 7000 ingredients. That really astounded me! He told us that he read up on Ohm’s law, battery safety, what was considered the safest vapes versus the unsafest. He said while he wanted a vape pen, he eventually wanted to get a higher wattage mod. We told him that we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. (At the time, I was still smoking and had for almost 28 years, so we didn’t even know what vaping was.) He informed us that he didn’t have any intentions of getting e-liquid that contained nicotine. He said “No offense Mom, but while I’ve been growing up around you smoking, I had to smell the stench of cigarettes with your 2 pack a day habit.” At first, I was kind of hurt that he said that, but it wasn’t until much later that I found out what he meant by the smell. He stated that nicotine is addictive and that he’d seen me try and fail to quit cigarettes. But, Mom you would be surprised to know that it’s not just the nicotine that has you hooked on cigarettes, he went on to tell me about the formaldehyde, tar, and many other ingredients that I didn’t even know was in cigarettes. I was appalled, and asked him if it was really true, and he showed me the webpages with the information. He said, “Mom, I never want to be hooked that way you have been and I certainly don’t want the nasty smell of cigarettes in my house or apartment, in my car, or on my clothes when I move out into the world on my own.” Finally, he told me that he felt that if he was vaping, he could keep his hands busy- therefore he wouldn’t be constantly feeding his face (he was overweight for a young man his age,) and he felt that with vaping it was much healthier than smoking because it contained vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and flavorings- he said these same exact things were all in other foods that we take in every day. His father and I were really impressed with his research. We had one final question: How do you intend to support this habit? He had already thought of that as well. He said he had actually been saving up in hopes that we would approve his request. What happens when you blow through your savings after you turn 18? He knew that his allowance would cease after he turned 18. He stated he would get a job or do occasional side work like a paper route, do yard work for the neighbors, or work as a part-time cart pusher at the local grocery store in our small town. He told his father and me that vaping was actually a lot more inexpensive than cigarettes. We told him to give us a while to talk it over and we also wanted to talk with our family physician. After that conversation, his father and I were thinking it would be good for the whole family if our doctor confirmed that vaping was safer than cigarettes. So, after talking with our family physician who actually encouraged me to do it over smoking, that it was much safer than smoking, we came back to our son and told him that he had to support his own habit, and actually practice what he quoted to us on safety, but we told him that I was going to do it with him. So, on Decemeber 2nd, 2016, we both (my son and I) got vape pens and he got 0mg e-liquid and I got e-liquid with 12mg of nicotine. So by having this very adult converstation with my 17 year old son, he actually got me started on vaping. Now, almost 2 years later, I’m down to .50mg (½) e-liquid. I never intended to reduce my nicotine, but I did so whenever I would get a scratchy throat. Now, being down to .50mg, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll continue vaping when I finally step down to 0mg. I haven’t smoked since my son got me started on vaping. I wasn’t even 2 weeks into vaping before I realized what my son meant about the smell of cigarettes. I noticed the smell when a friend had been smoking in our car and I got sick to my stomach. I made it a rule that no one was allowed to smoke in our car, in our house or even outside our house. I still get nauseated when I walk out the door of our local Wal-Mart. I’m so thankful that my son thought well enough of his father and I to have the conversation on vaping. I’m extremely thankful that vaping existed to help me finally break the cigarette habit. Through my son’s thorough research and us talking with our family doctor, I left cigarettes and never looked back. My son still doesn’t put nicotine in his e-liquid, he can’t even stand the taste (he HAS tried some of my e-liquids because I vape very different flavors than he does- I like desserts and coffees and he vapes fruity e-liquids. He’s very adamant about not vaping e-liquids that include nicotine. If every parent had an open conversation with their children about habits like vaping and cigarettes, I’m sure they’d be very surprised how their latter-teenage children feel about vaping versus smoking.

Groups like PAVe are forming based on decisions due to half-cocked media hyping because these parents are not well informed of what vaping is. By working so hard to eliminate vaping, they’ll be instead pushing their teenage kids to cigarettes which is much more deadly than vaping ever thought of being.

Jim McDonald
Author5

Thanks for the positive comment! One thing: if e-liquid only has four ingredients, then cigarettes only have two: tobacco and paper. The truth is that e-liquid has hundreds or thousands of ingredients too, because the flavorings are made of many chemical compounds.

6

That’s meant to say 4 main ingredients, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavorings, and nicotine if you wish it to be there. Yes, I know my Cornbread Pudding has 8 different ingredients but they’re flavors, but I see what you mean- the difference between a cake and a Twinkie. My point is my son was actually was mature enough to try and do his own research given the info he could find two years ago. He doesn’t question how a cake is made, he just knows it’s cake. But, even he knows that cake is healthier than Twinkies.

Jim McDonald
Author7

Yes, of course. I just see that comparison frequently and worry that some people don’t understand that there are a great many chemicals within the four ingredients of e-liquid. I still appreciated your story though!

8

There is a world of difference between the caustic and cancerous chemicals that they are lacing into regular cigarettes which totals over 4000 and the few natural and artificial flavorings used in e-juice. If the stuff in e-juice is so detrimental then why are these same chemicals used in our day to day food and air fresheners in much higher concentrations? Not similar but the EXACT same things. These people are the same kind of people who will yell at you on the street just cause YOU are smiling. Sadly they do exist. I also wonder if these people are connected with tobacco free kids, another nazi anti-tobacco group. TFK is who was recently fingered for flood spamming the comment board set up by the FDA over flavoring e-juice. 95% of the comments were fake and traced back to one of 4 IP Addresses known to be owned and used by individuals in TFK. 503,000 comments FAKE. I bet these people know each other.

9

Actually, cigarettes are allowed to contain many additives. Though you may be correct that e-cigarettes contain many chemicals in the form of flavorings, tobacco can be reconstituted in a myriad of ways and can contain a wide variety of “extras”. As a start, look at California and New York City’s ban on the chemical that keeps cigarettes burning, which is in the paper. Then look at why Marlboro invented “salt nic” (though they didn’t call it that) as a way of making their product more addictive. Check out how added chemicals can be combined with the reconstituted “tobacco” sheets that are then shredded and put into cigarettes as if they were natural tobacco. This is legally considered tobacco because of the ATF and legislation that allows the continuation of tobacco companies practices after a settlement in the 90’s nationwide. Tobacco cigarettes are not just tobacco and paper. Tobacco cigarettes are not controlled or regulated by the FDA. Tobacco cigarettes have been carefully crafted for a long time to be MUCH more than they seem to be. Your article is well written, but this specific comment seems a bit “off the cuff”, and is not factual. I applaud you for what you are doing, but your comment is dangerously wrong.

Jim McDonald
Author10

I think you misunderstood my point. I said IF e-liquid just has “four ingredients,” THEN cigarettes just have two. Neither thing is true, which was my point.

I think the “salt nic” you refer to in Marlboro was the Philip Morris innovation of adding ammonia, which speeds the absorption in the lungs and boosts the nicotine’s path to the brain.

11

It would be ironic if one of these kid burned there house down with a cigarette. Misinformed money at its best!!

12

A bunch of snowflakes!!! These “moms” most likely dont even raise there kids they have nannies do it for them and then wonder “why are they like this” well bad parenting and lack of parenting! Its parents who are responsible for kids vaping if you dont like it should have raised a better kid or maybe he just has a mind of his own! imagine that!

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