Think Piece: The FDA and Marvel Comics' New Anti-Vaping Campaign
Between pumping out films at lightspeed and plenty of TV series in-between, Marvel Comics is keeping its animators busy with a new anti-vaping campaign for the FDA. Seems like a great idea, right? Well, this isn't the latest Disney+ release, so don't jump on board too quickly.
You may or may not know that tobacco companies are required to pay user fees to the FDA Center for Tobacco Products. This year the FDA will collect upwards of $700 million from the industry, a massive portion of which is dedicated to anti-tobacco messaging, which in recent days includes vaping. These ads from a campaign called The Real Cost are designed for teenage viewing, in the hopes of deterring Gen Z and future generations from even considering picking up smoking (or vaping).
The intent seems noble - our mission at Eightvape has and always will be to provide an outlet for current smokers to quit altogether, and to provide age verification for both site entry and checkout to ensure that youth have no access to our products. We aren't trying to lure in nonsmokers into testing our products, and we certainly have no intention of tempting the underage, either. So what's the problem here?
Creating "The Perfect Villain"
The most recent ad release from The Real Cost is a team-up with Marvel Comics Studios, an animated Youtube video series called The Mind Control Menace. Here's the general gist.
Let's start with the intro: a swarm of zombie teenagers advance on two students: the female student exclaims "Something has taken control of the students!". The title appears: The Mind Control Menace. I assume this title is a commentary on addiction quite literally controlling one's mind. They're not wrong, of course, but the braindead zombie horde?
The video takes place in a high school, where students are apparently being transformed into these zombies due to - yep - vaping.
In one scene, two students described as having previously "extraordinary minds" are experimenting with a "strange new technology". After the test is complete, the student being tested on behaves dazed and loopy, as though she is quite literally on drugs. Again, the experiment they were performing is not described, but because the text bubble says the students were smart, I assume this is going to have something to do with nicotine later on.
In the final scene, a student tries to convince another to stop vaping so he won't be distracted during the school's basketball season. In response, the vaping student, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, transforms into a demon-like monster with glowing eyes. All that from nicotine, huh?
The Actual Cost
Only one part of this series has been released and already the misinformation is unbearable. To children or teen viewers who have never experienced nicotine, the video implies that not only does it erode your brain into a zombie-like stupor, but that it also creates a somewhat psychedelic, druglike experience? Again, the intentions of both the FDA's The Real Cost and Marvel Studios are good, but by wildly exaggerating the effects of nicotine, they're probably tempting children into wanting to try it more.
That's not just my opinion - I'm prepared to back that statement up. In 2019, the National Youth Tobacco Survey discovered that the most common reason school-aged children in the United States tried tobacco products like vaping was not due to fun flavors (like many recent social and political campaigns would have you believe). The number one reason given was curiosity.
Teenagers, as we know, are prone to needless risk-taking. And how attractive does vaping sound when it's portrayed as a mind-bending substance that you can find in gas stations? Ironically, the FCB New York's Gary Resch (the FDA's ad agency) seems to have accidentally agreed with this.
“With our partners at Marvel, we’re framing addiction as an entity that subverts [freedom]—which, for a 16-year-old, makes for a perfect villain,” said Gary Resch. The perfect villain: just like Venom, Loki, Killmonger, Thanos, and all the other bad guys that are actually the coolest part of any Marvel movie.
Did the FDA and Marvel realize the backwards message of this campaign, the senseless fear tactics that historically have never stopped teenagers from trying drugs or tobacco? Or is this an ad idea that is guaranteed to keep the FDA's cash coming in? You can form your own opinion. I'm not here to spread conspiracies, otherwise I'd be doing the same thing I'm arguing against.
So, what would stop young people from the pointless temptation to try nicotine?
You know what teens hate more than the subversion of their freedom? Being spoken to like they're too young to understand anything. Maybe by explaining the actual danger of nicotine (the withdrawals for example, or the obscene financial burden) teenagers would see the real picture - in all its actual ugliness.
Do fear tactics ever work? Can scaring teenagers with myths and exaggerations really lower their temptation to try tobacco? If it did, realistically smoking and vaping should no longer exist. But for some institutions, money will always be priority. And when you have $700 million of it to play with, maybe the true mission will get lost along the way.
The best future we could hope for is one where nicotine addiction doesn't exist. The only way to create this substance-free utopia is to face it head-on and make certain that those younger than us actually understand the facts about an addiction that we know is not nearly as tempting as it may appear. The Real Cost and the FDA have spent decades ignoring these facts and have repeatedly portrayed various substances as being otherworldly symbiotes in an attempt to scare kids straight. After so many failed campaigns, it might be time to re-think the process.
If we want youth to avoid smoking at all costs, don't they deserve the truth? Wouldn't that be the responsible thing to do?
McDonald, Jim. “Marvel Comics Creates Anti-Vaping Propaganda for FDA.” Vaping360, 8 Apr. 2021, http://vaping360.com/vape-news/109287/marvel-comics-creates-anti-vaping-propaganda-for-fda/.