E-Cigarette Sellers Offer Financial Aid to Students

12 June, 2018

Some manufacturers of electronic cigarettes are offering financial aid to students who write about the possible benefits of using their products.

The financial aid – worth $250 to $5,000 – can be used at colleges or universities in the United States. These scholarships are advertised on the internet by e-cigarette makers and e-cigarette review websites, the Associated Press reported.

Most of the scholarships are offered as part of a competition. Students are asked to write papers on how e-cigarettes can be safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. At least one company asks students to write about different kinds of e-cigarettes and suggest ones they like best. Some seek papers in support of medical marijuana.

Some companies have used the scholarships as a way to get their names listed on websites of schools like Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

E-cigarettes have been growing in popularity in the United States since 2010. The devices are never lit. They instead use power from a battery. They produce a vapor caused by heating liquid. Users breathe the gas into their lungs.

The liquid usually contains nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco products and traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is known to be highly addictive. So users can develop a dependency on the drug. Most e-cigarettes also contain other chemicals for taste.

Many medical experts agree that using an e-cigarette – known as vaping - is safer than smoking a cigarette. Supporters have also suggested that e-cigarettes can help smokers of traditional cigarettes cut back or even stop smoking. But little is yet known about the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes.

A woman adds flavor to a vaporizer while waiting for customers at the e-cigarette shop Henley Vaporium in New York, June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A woman adds flavor to a vaporizer while waiting for customers at the e-cigarette shop Henley Vaporium in New York, June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Robert Pagano is owner of the review site Vapor Vanity. He told the AP his company was offering scholarships of up to $1,500 this year. He admitted the financial aid is partly used as a marketing tool. But he also said that many people in the industry are former smokers who want to help young people avoid tobacco.

"It's a little bit of being genuine, a little bit of self-interest," said Pagano, whose company does not sell e-cigarette products. He added that scholarships are one of the best ways of getting students to think about the issues they are asked to write about.

Most companies behind the writing contests did not react to requests from the AP for comment. But the American Vaping Association defended the scholarships. It said they provide a way for companies to publicize their name while also offering students financial help.

Gregory Conley is the head of the association. He compared the scholarships to similar programs that have long been offered by manufacturers of alcohol products, such as Anheuser-Busch. That company gives tens of thousands of dollars each year to minority students.

Some anti-tobacco groups said they did not know about the scholarships until asked about them by the AP. They are sharply critical of efforts to get students to write in favor of vaping.

"They're trying to use youth as their marketing surrogates," said Gregg Haifley, who is with the American Cancer Society. He added that although some companies describe the programs as helpful to students, he believes it is all a marketing effort to get new users.

E-cigarette manufacturers often say their products are meant only for adults who are trying to stop smoking. Some of the writing contests state that they are not meant to promote vaping. But anti-tobacco groups say there is no other reason the companies would be reaching out to young people.

Robin Koval is president of the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit group opposed to the tobacco and vaping industries. She says most of the students getting involved are not smokers who are trying to stop. "What they're saying and what they're doing does not seem to agree here. But that's not surprising," Koval said.

The AP reports it is unclear how many scholarships have actually been awarded. Several websites promise to publicize winners of their contests, but none have appeared to do so. None of the 15 companies contacted by the AP would name the winners.

Harvard and California State University (CSU) at Long Beach removed e-cigarette-related scholarship listings after being asked about them by the AP. They explained that the listings should not have been posted.

"We're not interested in being a platform for tobacco or vaping," said spokesman Jeff Bliss, of CSU Long Beach.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

benefit n. a good or helpful result

review n. report in a publication that gives an opinion about a product

contest n. a competition

batteryn. a device for providing electric current

vapor n. substance in the form of a gas or that consists of very small drops or particles mixed with the air

genuine n. real, sincere or honest

surrogate n. a person that takes the place or performs the duties of someone else

promote v. give support to or make people aware of something

platform n. a way of telling the public about your opinions