October 26, 2018

University Students Want Mascot to Vape Instead of Smoke

Ibises are pretty boring as birds go. They’re big dinosaur-like waders, often seen at the edges of Florida waterways jabbing their sharp bills into the water for fish and frogs. Most of them don’t smoke or vape.

But the University of Miami Hurricanes’ cartoon mascot Sebastian the Ibis is known for angrily puffing a corncob pipe, and now a couple of enterprising UM students would like to update Sebastian’s image.

Alec Castillo and Kevin Fernandez have created a petition asking Miami president Julio Frenk to replace Sebastian’s old-fashioned pipe with a sleek, modern JUUL. No word yet from the administration, but we’re guessing Frenk — the former dean of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health — isn’t going to go for it.

The students’ illustrations show the new and improved Sebastian gripping the popular pod vape tightly in his bill while preparing to attack FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. (Okay, I made up that last part.) Unfortunately, the business end of the JUUL is spewing clouds into the surrounding air, because Sebastian hasn’t learned how to vape. That may be why he’s grimacing. No one’s more annoyed than a nicotine-dependent cartoon ibis unable to hit his JUUL.

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Courtesy Alec Castillo

The petition is clearly a joke, but based on the attention it’s gotten, it might just make its creators famous. Sports Illustrated just featured the juuling ibis on its online college football page, and a whole lot of people read Sports Illustrated. At the very least Castillo and Fernandez are about to be “campus famous,” which may be even better than the real thing.

The masterminds are pretty happy with the attention, although it’s hard to tell where sincerity ends and irony begins with these guys. “A lot of ugly old people have been horrified by the petition but they’re just afraid of progress and change,” Alec Castillo told us. He said he loves JUUL so much he can’t even pick a favorite flavor.

We wondered if the University of Miami is freaking out over JUUL like high schools have since the lies and myths about juuling started spreading last year. “The university has a smoke free policy but it’s kind of like how jaywalking is illegal,” said Fernandez. “Sure it says you’ll get a fine, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually got one.”

The duo doesn’t take the FDA and JUUL panic too seriously. “Contrary to popular belief, there are no negative side effects to juuling,” said Castillo. “There are a bunch of fabricated lies being tossed around from the FDA because old tobacco is scared of the future.”

The petition, which launched about a month ago, is almost up to 400 supporters now, after a spike in responses following the SI mention. Sebastian might just go viral. Keep an eye on the #LetHimJUUL hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

Kevin Fernandez, who says his previous claim to fame is that he “once met OJ Simpson,” knew the juuling Sebastian would be a hit when his mother shared it on Facebook. He was grateful, because “without her I wouldn’t be here right now.”

We tend to see juuling from the perspective of vapers always on defense against the threat of FDA regulation and restrictive state or local legislation. It’s a war, and we seem to be losing it. But most vapers don’t know all that, and probably wouldn’t believe it if you told them. They see vaping as a low-risk way to enjoy nicotine, a pretty benign and even beneficial drug — and they’re right.

That’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t have to live in a state of constant struggle and hyper vigilance. But until the world accepts vaping as a practice that doesn’t portend the downfall of western civilization, we’ll have to keep fighting.

In the meantime, let the ibises juul.

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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