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Vaping: A Trojan horse

the unlicensed ethicist

Dear Unlicensed Ethicist:  Vaping is disgusting and juvenile, and I’m happy to hear that Duke is considering banning it. But a guy down the hall, a self-proclaimed “JUUL fiend,” says it’s his right to do as he pleases and that the “nanny state” should keep its hands off his JUUL pods. Is he right? Or should Duke go ahead and prohibit e-cigarettes?

Devoted reader: Disgusting and juvenile? This innovative teen, who sings the praises of JUUL party mode, begs to differ. More like suave, sophisticated, and chic.

In all seriousness, Duke absolutely should ban e-cigarettes, and the sooner the better. After all, our university was birthed by tobacco money. In 1890, James Buchanan Duke founded The American Tobacco Company, which made a killing… both figuratively and literally.

Sauteed shrimp from Big Bowl, perfect sprawling lawns, and the gothiest of Gothic architecture? You have tobacco to thank. The second-hand benefits of tobacco have wafted across campus throughout the decades, and Duke should make amends for its role in spreading debilitating illness by helping prevent the next public health crisis: e-cigarettes.

When Duke Health was preparing to institute a “smoke free” policy in 2007, there were complaints from smokers who fretted about how they’d get their nicotine fix. But establishing facilities conducive to patient health took precedence, and the air was cleansed. In other words, your JUUL fiend down the hall is not the first to make the flimsy complaint that his rights are being violated. But it turns out that blowin’ smoke is just not an inalienable right.  

Beginning on July 1, 2020, Duke’s smoke-free policy will be expanded from Duke Health buildings to the entire campus. Such policies hurt Philip Morris, America’s largest tobacco company.

Well guess who owns Philip Morris. A company named Altria. And guess who owns 35 percent of JUUL. That same company named Altria. If you think that’s a coincidence, you probably also think it’s a coincidence that James B. Duke’s statue, which stands in the shadow of the Duke Chapel, features him enjoying a fat cigar. Thankfully, “party mode” did not exist in his era, or his gravitas would be compromised. 

Altria wants to keep America addicted to nicotine because that’s how they make a profit. So if Altria can’t get nicotine into the bloodstream of Duke students through Marlboro cigarettes, it is just as happy accomplishing that nefarious goal via trojan horse, namely Juul e-cigarettes.

And why wouldn’t we open the gates of our university to this horse? JUULing is so exciting, especially with flavors that are, as they say, to die for. Creme Brulee, Fruit Medley, or Mango—choose your poison.

According to James Monsees, one of JUUL’s founders, e-cigarettes “refresh the magic and luxury of the tobacco category.” Sounds great, except that it could not be further from the truth. JUULing is just a cutting-edge method of getting nicotine into one’s bloodstream as efficiently and quickly as possible. Compared to cigarettes, it delivers 30 percent more nicotine per puff.

The American Journal of Medicine found that, among adults who do not smoke cigarettes, those who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely than non-vapers to take up smoking within 18 months. JUUL’s sells itself as a way to reduce smoking, but in reality it creates nicotine addicts.

Perhaps Duke’s ban on e-cigarettes would be almost unenforceable. But that is part JUUL’s marketing strategy. Dress it up as a thumb drive, eliminate the odor, and it becomes almost impossible to detect. 

Duke should not facilitate Altria’s attempts to make e-cigarettes as ubiquitous as combustible cigarettes once were. Given Duke’s legacy, we should not help them turn Tobacco Road into a four-lane highway. 

Lena Yannella is a Trinity sophomore. Her column “the unlicensed ethicist” runs on alternate Tuesdays. To submit an ethical quandary, shoot her an email at 


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