My 11-year old son is starting middle school this fall and I admit I’m slightly terrified and definitely anxious because there is no doubt that big changes are coming his (our) way.
The tween years…that stage in life where you’re no longer a self absorbed, happy, go lucky young kid but you’re not yet a hormonally driven teen. As a parent, I think this stage is crucial and oftentimes overlooked as we focus on the very young years of our kids lives, ensuring they’re growing at the right pace, or we place a big focus on the adolescent years concerning ourselves with teen rebelliousness, reckless driving, unprotected sex, alcohol, and drugs.
The tween stage is a time of big changes with big shifts occurring physically, emotionally, and socially. No longer sheltered in their small elementary schools, they are now in middle school, a bigger world, a bigger league, and greatly influenced by their peers where they can easily go down the wrong path. Advertisers also begin talking to them directly because of the influence power they now begin to exert.
That is why it is disturbing to read that e-cigarette consumption (also known as vaping) is the latest fad in middle schools and that usage has been increasing over the years and growing in popularity. Say what?!? If you think e-cigarettes are harmless, well think again. They contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and may harm brain development.
Still e-cigs are marketed as not dangerous or toxic to our health and are offered in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors that appeal to a young target. The business remains fairly unregulated and although you have to be 18 to buy, it’s fairly easy for kids to get. They can use cash to purchase a pre-paid credit card and buy them online, for example. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70% of middle and high school kids are exposed to e-cig advertising in retail stores, the internet, magazines/newspapers, and TV/movies.
As a marketer I understand that there is a great link between exposure of advertising and the use of the product. So I did some further investigating and it boggles my mind to see e-cigs offered in flavors like chocolate, bubble gum, sweet tarts, gummi bears, cotton candy, and even froot loops…all the flavors my 11 year old loves! They also come in a variety of colors and designs like Transformers, and cartoon characters, even jewelry-like. How is a kid to resist? Especially if their peers are using it and making it fashionable and cool?
If e-cigs help smokers quit the habit, than that’s great, but to have a product that is designed and marketed in a way that appeals to our youth, than that’s just plain wrong. My eleventeen year old as I like to refer to him, has enough to deal with in this precarious stage of life. So while e-cigs will probably not be coming off the market anytime soon, I just hope my son remembers all of our life lessons, is able to make the right decisions, and influence others to do the same. As parents let’s empower our kids with information, as marketers let’s not glorify e-cigs or make them cool, as consumers let’s support Prop 56 and save lives in California. By doing all or some of these things, we can help keep our kids from getting burned…