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.
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 so many of PAVe’s “websites we like” 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.
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. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb already wants to take the nicotine out of cigarettes. Think it couldn’t go further?
The anti-juuling moms are promoting an email campaign to pressure Commissioner 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 New York City volunteer activists than he does with vapers or smokers. Vape bans could start happening anytime.
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.
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… Read more »
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.
Tobacco is treated with 1000’s of chemicals preserve the tobacco and other chemicals to make the cigarettes burn longer, as well as pesticides. So no cigarettes are not just tobacco and paper. Tobacco untreated is healthier and doesn’t taste as good to the smoker. Ecigarettes consist of 3 edible ingredients vegetable glycerin(used in cake iceing and fog machines), propylene glycol(can fine it in inhalers, tooth paste and more) , and food flavorings. Nicotine is the only unedible chemical in them.
Technically nicotine is edible as well when looking at the nightshade (Solanaceae) vegetables. And it may even reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23661325; published also in the Annals of Neurology.
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.
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!
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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.
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.
Erin mills who is a founder of Pave is married to the man who runs risk assessment and comes up with the plans for how to destroy the competition for Philip Morris aka Altria. It is literally his job to take down vaping by any means he can so big tobacco stays in business…. Funny the coincidence on that isn’t it?
That’s mostly not true. Erin Mills is NOT a PAVe founder. There’s no evidence her husband works on the Altria account for Deloitte, or has anything to do with Altria. (Also that’s her husband, not her.) This is a conspiracy theory. Mills just happens to be the one PAVe member who uses Twitter a lot, making her especially visible. She isn’t part of the group’s leadership, and never has been.
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!
It would be ironic if one of these kid burned there house down with a cigarette. Misinformed money at its best!!