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Playtime: vaping devices designed as cartoons and toys may appeal to kids

Vaping device technology and appearance have transformed from cigarette lookalikes to mod devices, to the discreet and colourful designs of JUUL and its many offshoots. Recent innovations in vaping devices include those that resemble miniature toys, including soda bottles, snow cones and popsicles. These products piggy-back on the popularity of toy miniatures, driven by TikTok and other social media sites.

By manipulating device design in this way, vape manufacturers can increase marketability of their device, appeal to younger demographics and potentially increase the uptake of vaping. Regulating the vaping industry to prevent uptake by youth has largely focused on flavours or e-liquid packaging that appeal to children.

Facing increased regulation, vaping device manufacturers have become more creative with the device design. For example, vapes that appear like mini-boba cups went viral on social media in late 2022. These vaping devices are available for purchase around the world, including in the USA or from manufacturers abroad to be shipped to the USA. Device designs that resemble toys, candy or other consumables have the potential to entice youth. The designs may give the impression that the products are less dangerous, while inhaling through a small bendy straw may encourage youth to experiment. The designs may motivate youth who only vape socially to purchase their own devices and turning the devices into collectable items may lead youth to purchase multiple devices rather than just one at a time. Vaping devices that resemble popular toys may also hide the product’s true purpose and facilitate stealth usage by youth. The likelihood that youth can use these products without discovery is increased with added elements by some manufacturers, such as making the device look like a novelty keychain. The designs could also potentially confuse young children who mistake the true purpose of these devices and increase accidental exposures.

To date, tobacco researchers have explored how devices that can be used discreetly can impact vape device usage, but further research is needed on the impact device characteristics have on youth perceptions, access, and use. Regulatory agencies must consider taking steps to regulate device features such as colour, size and style to prevent designs that would entice children or be marketed based on their aesthetic appeal to youth. In November 2022, the US Food and Drug

Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to five firms for the unauthorised marketing of 15 different vaping products that look like toys, food or cartoon characters and are likely to promote use by youth.

Brian King, PhD, MPH, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, noted at the time that the ‘The designs of these products are an utterly flagrant attempt to target kids’. Despite the FDA’s warning of potential injunction, seizure and/or civil money penalties, products identified in this paper remained available for purchase in the USA as of late February 2023, suggesting that control of such products requires stronger surveillance and enforcement of violations and cross-national cooperation.

Contributors: All authors contributed substantially to the paper’s conceptualization and production. ZT carried out the initial research and wrote the first manuscript draft; HLW led the conceptualisation of the paper and assisted with the manuscript drafting; and AL assisted with manuscript revisions.

Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products funded Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science at the University of Southern California (U54CA180905).

Competing interests: None declared.

Patient consent for publication: Not applicable.

Ethics approval: Not applicable.

Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Open access: This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial.



Zacari Tatum

Adam Leventhal

Heather Lynn Wipfli


  • Levin C. The gigantic joy of collecting teeny-tiny things. slate. 2021. Available: [Accessed 21 Feb 2023].
  • Dormanesh A, Allem JP. New products that facilitate stealth vaping: the case of SLEAV. Tob Control 2022;31:685–6.
  • FDA News Release. FDA warns firms for selling illegal E-cigarettes that look like toys, food, and cartoon characters. companies must stop marketing unauthorized products or risk enforcement. 2022. Available:

Black history has taught us that Big Tobacco is not an ally

Black history has taught us that Big Tobacco is not an ally

By Phillip Gardiner

Phillip Gardiner is co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.

This Black History Month, I have a simple message for nonprofit organizations in the United States: If you have accepted money from the tobacco industry, send it back. For hundreds of years, from enslaved people working on tobacco plantations to today’s menthol smokers, Black people have died for the tobacco industry’s profit. Today, the makers of Marlboro, Camel and Newport are using cash donations to polish their images and influence policy while approximately 45,000 Black Americans die of smoking-related illness every year.


It struck a chord when the Kennedy Center was criticized in The Post for accepting donations from cigarette giants Altria and Philip Morris International. I and many others cannot reconcile any organization saying that it works to support Black communities while simultaneously taking substantial donations from an industry that predatorily targets the same people.


Subsequently, I was horrified to learn the National Museum of African American History and Culture takes donations from Marlboro-maker Altria. As co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, I wrote to the museum’s leadership to reject tobacco money. Vital Strategies, a global public health organization that helped with this essay, had approached the Kennedy Center with a similar message before Rebecca Perl’s piece ran in The Post and received no response. I did hear from the museum, nearly two months after contacting it. Officials said they appreciated my concern, but it doesn’t appear the museum has any intention to change its existing practices. I don’t think that’s good enough.


Standing tall on our capital’s National Mall alongside the Washington Monument, the museum says its purpose is to “tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture.” Tobacco’s shameful chapter in that story is forever connected to the slave trade and tobacco plantations, where forced labor formed part of the foundations of the United States — and what is now a global tobacco industry.


Vestiges of that exploitation continue to this day, principally through the predatory marketing of menthol cigarettes and flavored little cigars in the Black community. There are more advertisements, more promotions in Black communities, where menthol cigarettes are cheaper.


Menthol is an anesthetic that masks the harsh taste of tobacco and allows for deeper inhalation of greater amounts of nicotine and tar. Studies show that menthol cigarettes are more addictive and, unsurprisingly, users find it harder to quit than non-menthol cigarette users. These products fuel a cycle of addiction to harmful products that hurt the pocketbooks in Black communities and fuels death, health problems and medical costs.


In 1953, 5 percent of African Americans smoked menthol cigarettes. Today, 85 percent of Black adults and 94 percent of Black youths who smoke use menthol products. Between 1980 and 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 1.5 million new smokers, 157,000 smoking-related premature deaths and 1.5 million life-years lost among African Americans, representing a staggering 41 percent of premature deaths and half of the total in life-years lost in America. In other words, menthol takes a much greater toll on African Americans. Black Americans die disproportionately of heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes and other tobacco-related diseases. Menthol cigarettes are a leading vector for death and disease in Black communities, worsening health and economic inequities.

Responsibility lies with the tobacco companies. It’s time they stopped producing menthol cigarettes and treating the health of Black communities as expendable. Congress should also act to pass the proposed ban on menthol tobacco products without further delay. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that a national menthol ban could save up to 6,000 Black lives each year. Prioritizing profit over Black lives, the industry is lobbying against the legislation.


Tobacco donations to institutions such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture are part of the playbook, giving cigarette companies a sheen of respectability that allows them to access the halls of power and helping them maintain the profitable status quo. Altria, a donor to the museum, owns Philip Morris USA, the largest tobacco company in the United States, with nearly half of the cigarette retail market, including 26 percent of the menthol market. In accepting Altria’s money rather than holding its donor and the industry to account, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is complicit in the industry’s ongoing exploitation of Black people.

Maybe cultural institutions will not break from tobacco companies unless they are forced to do so. Some countries ban tobacco sponsorships so cigarette makers can’t promote themselves under the guise of corporate social responsibility.


Lacking such legislation in the United States, we are reliant on the integrity of the institutions involved or the type of public outrage that led to Sackler donations being rejected when the family’s company, Purdue Pharma, was exposed as a key driver of the opioid epidemic. I’m disappointed but not surprised that we haven’t heard the same volume of voices demanding that the National Museum of African American History and Culture reject cigarette company donations, since many African American organizations take the money. The preservation and honoring of African American history




shouldn’t be an economic and cultural opportunity for corporations whose activities perpetuate inequity and harm for Black Americans.


So, if the National Museum of African American History and Culture or any other cultural or charitable institution would like to demonstrate their support for Black Americans this Black History Month, return the money received from the tobacco industry.

DeWine vetoes bill that would have stopped cities from banning flavored tobacco

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine vetoed a bill Thursday that would have banned cities from regulating smoking, vaping and other e-cigarette usage and sales that was put forward after Columbus banned flavored tobacco products.

“This measure is not in the public interest, therefore, just a few minutes ago, I vetoed this bill,” DeWine announced Thursday morning at a news conference.

The clouds of sour green apple vapor will slowly start to dissipate in Columbus.

“As soon as we said the word veto, we cheered,” Amanda Turner, a mom and advocate against tobacco, said. “It was a very exciting, emotional moment.”

Amanda Turner remembers her grandfather, a man who died when she was ten years old. He was a tobacco farmer and died from lung cancer.

“It’s safe to say for a long time, most of my life, I really disliked tobacco,” she said. “Today as a mother, I fear it.”

As she got older, she started to focus on trying to get flavored tobacco products banned in the city.

She was successful in the winter. The ordinance impacted the sale of products, not their use. It would still be legal to smoke flavored tobacco products, but consumers would need to get it outside city limits.

“When the ordinance passed on December 12th, it was exciting, it was a joyous moment,” she said. “But it felt a little clouded, to be honest because we knew the next day we were going to have to go to the Statehouse and defend the good work that just happened in Columbus, the life-saving work that just happened in Columbus.”

One day after Columbus banned flavored tobacco products, saying the corporations responsible for them have targeted children and Black Americans, state representative Jon Cross (R-Kenton) added a provision to the bill to prevent any city or municipality from regulating smoking, vaping and other e-cigarette usage and sales.

Governor DeWine wasn’t a fan of this.

“When a local community wants to make the decision to ban these flavors to protect their children, we should applaud those decisions,” the governor said.

Flavored products are meant to target younger users, and that is exactly what happened to OSU student Brandon Feldman.

“I think the flavor was kind of a contributing factor,” he said. “I like fruitier ones more because it’s a flavor.”

He started vaping in high school after his friends introduced him to it, he said. From then, it quickly became a habit.

“Eventually you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, it would be nice’ and then eventually ‘It would be nice’ turns it into, ‘Oh, I bought a vape,’” Feldman said.

He does think he is addicted — but wanted to clarify.

“It’s not like I’m like, ‘Oh, I need my vape at all times,’” he said. “But it’s like one of those things where I would prefer to have it on me rather than not have it.”

He doesn’t like this feeling, and calls it a “crutch.”

When it comes to the veto, the student has “mixed feelings.” He said he knows the veto makes sense, but it may be hard for him. People should know the risks since vape labels come with warnings, but he understands that DeWine and Columbus are just trying to curb the epidemic, even if it does come at the expense of his taste buds and wallet.

“I’m really going to have to, like, decide now, do I want to go out of my way and spend more money, or am I going to just stop and like, find something better to do?” he asked.

Overall, he believes it is necessary.

“I feel like it’s a step in the right direction when you have a major city like Columbus, kind of be like, ‘Oh, we’re not doing this anymore,’” he said. “But in order to get influential change, you need the other towns around it to follow through.”

Different municipalities will now have different rules, a complaint the governor kept hearing. DeWine had an idea of how to make the law more uniform.

“The easiest way to do that, it seems to me, is to have a statewide ban of flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping,” he said.

Why lawmakers tried to stop ordinance

“We want to sit there and say, ‘Oh, don’t get fat, we’re going to cancel double cheeseburgers,'” Cross said during debate of the bill, seemingly imitating a local government official.

During the nearly 17-hour marathon debate session last month, the lawmaker argued this could cause cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus to ban anything considered unhealthy.

“We’re going to get rid of the Big Gulp,” he argued, still mimicking, while lawmakers sitting behind him stifled laughter. “No 32-ounce Cokes.”

Ohio Mayors Alliance Executive Director Keary McCarthy said the argument isn’t really about soda, fast food or even flavored vapes. It is about local rule.

“There has been a growing trend of provisions passed by the state Legislature that very directly conflict with home rule in Ohio,” McCarthy said.

Municipal home rule allows cities and villages in Ohio to have the constitutional right to certain powers, including establishing laws in accordance to the self-government clause. If something doesn’t interfere with laws in the Ohio Revised Code, cities have the right to make their own policies, Keary argued, citing Section 3.

“When the heavy hand of state government comes down from central Ohio, from Columbus, our capital city, and says, ‘Oh, you can’t do it this way, you have to do it this way,’ it conflicts with that sacred right to home rule that is embedded in our Constitution,” he added.

Lawmakers have started to strip powers away from municipalities, which can be seen with this new tobacco bill, but also with bills to prevent gun safety measures, plastic bag bans and teaching about race in school. The Ohio Municipal League has been tracking 22 bills in total this session that it believes overstep its rights, or at least are “of interest.”

RELATED: Inconsistencies in Ohio’s home rule authority highlighted by tobacco legislation

What’s next

Columbus will be able to move forward with their ordinance.

In a seemingly-strategic move by DeWine, the timing works out that the lawmakers are not able to override the governor’s veto.

The bill was passed in the previous General Assembly, not the one that was just sworn in on Tuesday – so the new lawmakers aren’t able to vote against him. The DeWine team told News 5 they made sure to check with their legal team to confirm.

Thursday’s veto was the second of legislation passed during the last legislative session. Earlier this week, DeWine rejected HB 286, which would have allowed legal challenges for certain agency orders to occur in the county where a business or a person resides.

Columbus City Council voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city