According to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 million middle and high school students admitted to using tobacco products in a 2022 study—that’s more than 1 in 10 students in the U.S.
Of those students, about 9.4 percent said e-cigarettes were their most commonly used device for tobacco use, making them the most popular device for teens by far. By contrast, only about 1.6 percent of teens reported that cigarettes were their preferred tobacco device.
The increased popularity of e-cigarettes may be, in part, because clever marketing campaigns have led many to believe e-cigarettes are not as harmful as traditional cigarettes.
While there may be some truth to this, experts agree that e-cigarettes are far from safe. In fact, according to CDC data, as of February 2020, there have been a total of 2,807 cases of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the U.S., including 68 deaths.
Due to the rising epidemic of vaping among students leading to significant disease and death, we wanted to bring attention to the topic of e-cigarette use and manufacturer liability.
So we asked college students their thoughts on the matter.
We’re pleased to report that we received over 150 insightful responses to this important topic. While we ultimately had to select just 1 winner for this essay contest—Madelyn Heckert from Portland State University—we’d like to highlight some of our favorite responses from other students and share their perspectives on vaping and manufacturer liability.
Here are some of their responses to the prompt:
Vaping and manufacturer liability: Should electronic cigarette manufacturers be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping? Why or why not?
Madelyn Heckert from Portland State University (scholarship winner):
“I was walking home from dance practice with a friend when she pulled out a dab pen. Smiling, she told me to try it. I hesitated, asking if it was safe. She nodded and explained that it’s safer than smoking. I still refused because I figured that inhaling artificial smoke was probably not the best for your lungs. I went home and researched. I saw reports of damaged lungs (American Lung Association) and injuries from exploding batteries (Seitz). I didn’t see any mention of those though in the advertisements, which is why I can see why my friend thought vaping is safe. My friend has been lucky so far but for everyone else with injuries or lung damage deserves damages from the manufacturers.
E-cigarette manufacturers can be held liable for injuries if it’s shown they have a design, manufacturing, or advertising defect. A design defect is when the product is made correctly but the faulty design is dangerous. A manufacturing design is when the product was not produced correctly, and the defect is dangerous. An advertising defect is when the product is advertised without the correct warning or instructions. E-cigarettes show both a design defect and an advertising defect.
Kayla Rowland from Colorado Christian University
“Vaping companies should be liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping. They produce products that can be deadly and they advertise their products to the teens and young adolescents whose brains are not fully developed yet. If these companies are ok with selling these products, then they should be ok with the repercussions that may follow. They should not advertise their products to be “trendy, young, and cool” because then they take advantage of the underdeveloped brains, and those vaping companies should take the responsibility when a tragedy occurs.”
Jonah Miller from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“The e-cigarette industry depends upon an assumption that vaping is a ‘safe’ alternative to smoking. Manufacturers’ advertisements take advantage of the average child’s ignorance of the actual dangers. Most importantly, this is not unintentional; there is no tragic accident here. Evidence has shown a concerted marketing effort by manufacturers to profit at the expense of children’s welfare. With that in mind, it seems only right that they should be held accountable for their actions.”
Amesyah Flowers from DePaul University
“Vaping is a choice that may lead to an addiction, so customers should be the ones liable for their own sustained lung damage. It is not like the companies are forcing the consumers to buy their product, especially high-schoolers because it is mainly targeted towards a mature audience. The real problem is the influence around vaping, and the ones that influence the trend of smoking ‘because it’s cool’ is social media.”
Kaneisha Carrington from UConn
“I do not feel manufacturers should be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damages due to a result of vaping. The truth is made clear about the side effects a person encounters with prolonged use, it is a personal choice, and there are other alternatives.”
“In the end it is a choice, how long a person of legal age chooses to use it for and the prolonged amount of time they use it for. Companies who create this for personal use should not be held liable.”
Kalli Jones from Utah Valley University
“Considering the fact that most, if not all, gun manufacturers are not held liable (depending on the state), I feel we should treat this situation in a similar sense. It is a given that guns are used to kill, to protect, or to defend-they aren’t advertised any other way. Electronic cigarettes, if advertised for their true purpose, rather than just to ‘magically make every bad moment a little better’ should not be to blame. The user knew exactly what s/he was buying, so they can not blame anyone but themselves.”
Sarah Smith from Colorado Christian University
“Even though it is the customer’s decision on if they are going to vape, vaping companies should be held accountable for injuries due to vaping to some degree. The reasoning behind this is who they are targeting as their audience and false advertisement on safety of using vapes.”
Sydney Rowe from Santa Monica College
“These companies are not responsible for someone agreeing to smoke their product, but they are responsible if someone is spreading smoke that damages surrounding people. When it was time to vote for the changes we want to see in our city, I voted for the removal of tobacco products because I understood that I am a victim of a product that I have never purchased. These companies know that people use them to get rid of mental stress, and the homeless often use vaping as a meal replacement because vapes are cheaper than a salad. The production of these products creates a domino effect of destroyed health in our community whether you purchased it or not.”
Victoria Gavrioff from University of Arizona
“When an individual takes a risk against their health when a clear warning has been initiated, the company that posed that risk should not be retaliated against. Many fast food restaurants in the United States carry ingredients that are known to be detrimental to the body if eaten or encountered frequently. Yet, a 30-year-old individual struggling with obesity and high cholesterol has no right suing industries like Wendy’s or McDonald’s on behalf of their health problems. The companies providing the product are still in business because individuals continue consuming it. Almost everyone in America is willing to take the risk, and that is the power of free will. Electronic cigarette manufacturers should not be held liable for injuries sustained by their products. We should not compensate for poor decisions, just as we wouldn’t compensate a dying alcoholic.”
Ozrick A. Stavreff from University of Arizona
“E-cigarette companies market their products as trendsetters and how they offer several attractive flavors. If marketed solely in this manner, the company manufacturers should not be held liable to any adverse consequence that does not involve manufacturing issues. Here, the concept of autonomy allows the user to purchase the product freely as long as they have unbiased information on the benefits and risks of the product. This concept governs the sale of other legal drugs such as tobacco. Tobacco manufacturing companies are not held liable to the negative effects of tobacco since the user knows these effects beforehand. Using the same logic, it seems fair to hold the user accountable rather than the manufacturing company.”
Ethan Thompson from Utah State University
“In the case of electronic cigarette manufacturers, many of these companies go to great lengths to protect themselves from civil liabilities by announcing their product to be dangerous. However, these same companies will use wording tactics to make their e-cigarette products seem less dangerous by comparing those products to more dangerous cigarettes. If a company is using misleading claims to advertise their product as more healthy than another dangerous product, then that company should be held responsible for the damages that their product causes.”
Jayson Minner from DePaul University
“Electronic cigarettes come with health risks such as battery explosions and lung pain that commonly go unheard of when it comes to the marketing of electronic cigarettes. Of course, consumers do not expect manufacturers to blatantly come out with the many possible ways their products can negatively affect your health, but laws are put into place so that these manufacturers are required to warn consumers about all the health risks involved with their products. Failure to warn consumers about health risks should hold electronic cigarette manufacturers liable for injuries from their products.”
Quanisha Shannon from D’Youville University
“I believe the e-cigarettes manufacturers should be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping. Vaping was initially introduced as a healthy alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes were new therefore the effects could have not possibly been known.”
“I believe the e-cigarettes are responsible for the lack of health information provided on their products when they first came out and faulty products that resulted in physical injuries.”
Monica Oses Saurit from Western Governors University
“Aren’t we all responsible for our own decisions and actions? I believe so, and I also think that it is important that this idea is reminded to our society for the sake of our freedom and independence as individuals.”
“No one has ever been forced to use electronic cigarettes or to smoke, in the first place. Nowadays, we all should know the adverse consequences of smoking and vaping. Then, why should a company that fills in a need of a group within our society be held liable for our personal decisions to put our health at risk?”
Sean Coyne from Perry Technical Institute
“One of the many risks could be the device burning up inside and blowing up. This has happened several times since vapes first started to become more popular. They were improperly built, and it could have caused a short circuit in the wiring built inside. These devices could potentially harm the consumer if they had it in their hand, pocket, or were smoking it. If they left the device in their room or car this possibility could lead to a huge amount of property damage.”
Jecin Joseph from Governors State University
“Vaping at its essence bears little difference to smoking traditional cigarettes—in effect, only the delivery mechanism differs. As a result, vaping firms, advertising, and products should be held to similar standards as tobacco companies—who see vaping as a new, less regulated market that will allow them access to young adults—before we repeat the major issues and health problems we saw when tobacco firms were allowed to run rampant, without regard to the effects of their products on both individuals and public health.”
Courtney Frasier from Logan University
“There has been a controversial claim from vaping communities that the use of electronic cigarettes is safer than using cigarettes due to the ingredients. Though, vaping is still highly addictive due to the application of nicotine with an increasing amount of nicotine being used by individuals. Along with nicotine, vape industries involve flavorings and other chemicals in their pods that are still continually depositing substances in your lungs. Vaping exposes your lungs and frankly, other anatomical structures within the body, to harmful chemicals regardless.”
Nikhil Jaganathan from Augusta University
“Most teenagers are unaware of the significant addictive potential and long-term damage that e-cigarettes pose, often due to lack of information and awareness provided by these companies regarding their products. Consequently, teenagers who use e-cigarettes to experiment or conform to their peers often find themselves trapped in a compulsive habit for years to come.”
Porter Kindall from Brigham Young University
“Vaping, the act of inhaling an aerosol from a device, has become increasingly popular in recent years. As the popularity of vaping has risen, so too has the debate about whether or not electronic cigarette manufacturers should be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping.”
“In my opinion, electronic cigarette manufacturers should be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping. The primary reason why electronic cigarette manufacturers should be held liable for injuries and sustained lung damage as a result of vaping is because they are responsible for the quality of the products that they are selling.”
Angelique Pearson from University of Colorado Denver
“Due to e-cigarettes still containing highly addictive nicotine, this chemical can cause harm to the developing brains of teens, children, and fetuses in pregnant women. In addition, some types of e-cigarettes expose users to even more nicotine than traditional cigarettes. Side effects of nicotine are tremors, seizures, increased heart rate, and other health issues. Besides exposure to nicotine, other chemicals can cause chemical reactions with or without heating the liquor. For example, some chemicals combined can cause various forms of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde, a naturally occurring chemical, has been linked to certain cancers in people with repeated exposure. Also, under the vaping condition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration produced gaseous formaldehyde at levels above those considered safe. Furthermore, when heated, the chemicals in the e-cigarette can become even more toxic. ( Llamas, Michelle, 2021).”
Lyann Trinh from Ohio State University College of Pharmacy
“There is not enough accessible education provided to patients regarding the glaring risks associated with electronic cigarettes and how they even provide more pronounced health issues compared to traditional cigarettes. As a current pharmacy technician at a cancer hospital, all the patients admitted are battling cancer, yet in the medication bins there are confiscated Juuls, vape pods, and other electronic cigarettes that are preventing patients from getting better. Not only are these patients’ battling cancer, but they are battling their nicotine dependence.”
Think you could write a winning essay? Apply for our next essay contest!
Are you currently a college student? If so, be sure to join in our next essay contest for a chance to compete for a $1,500 scholarship. Visit our scholarship page to see the next essay question and submit your entry.
Thanks to all the students who participated in this contest, and best of luck in your studies!