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Some Vape Brands Have Gone Too Far With Disguised Vaping Devices
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Vape Brands Have Gone Too Far With Disguised Vaping Devices

Innovation is essential to the success of every industry, from electric vehicles to fast food, and the vape industry is no different. Without innovation by vape brands, we wouldn’t have leak-free pod devices, super-efficient mesh coils, flavors to suit any taste, and vapes with safety features like overcharge protection.

Innovation in the design of vapes has been almost as important. It means vapers no longer only have the choice between cig-a-likes and big box mods and instead can find devices in sizes and shapes to suit almost any need.

Unfortunately, some of the design choices have likely contributed to the situation most previously vape-friendly countries are now in, with daily news stories about the rise of youth vaping, vape detectors being fitted in elementary schools, outrage at e-liquids that taste like popular candies, and increasing calls for disposables and certain flavors to be banned outright.


Has the Vape Industry Gone Too Far?

Writing shocking news stories about 11-year-olds vaping in school has been made very easy by the availability of vapes that mimic soda bottles and highlighter pens, or which are decorated with colorful cartoon characters. The optics alone are enough to get people questioning the validity of vaping, the morality of vape companies, and to have people calling for a ban on vaping.

To those, like us, who see vaping as a practical and effective way for adults to reduce or even quit their reliance on tobacco, these types of cynical marketing strategies are worrying, to say the least. They have undoubtedly harmed and continue to hurt the efforts of researchers and other pro-vape voices which are trying to have vaping viewed as a viable smoking cessation method.

It smacks of the sort of marketing used by tobacco companies in the 1940s when RJ Reynolds came up with the notorious slogan “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” after slinging free cases of Camel cigarettes at the very doctors they were surveying. No sensible person can say it is right to use medical professionals to promote smoking, just as no one should think it is okay to use cartoon characters to market e-cigarettes.

Sure, a small percentage of adults might want or need a vape that can be passed off as something innocuous like a highlighter or USB stick for personal or professional reasons, but a niche market like that is unlikely to be significant enough for multiple vape brands to target aggressively.

And It has to be said, this isn’t the vape industry as a whole. Reputable brands like Innokin, VAPORESSO, OXVA, and VOOPOO aren’t the ones decorating their devices like something aimed at a 10-year-old. Unfortunately, successful products attract both reputable and disreputable manufacturers looking to cash in, and without strong regulation, what is there to stop the less reputable from exploiting anyone who will hand over their money?

Anything that is seen as being targeted at children is going to damage the reputation of the industry as a whole and this gives anti-vape campaigners the perfect ammunition to add to their ongoing assertion that fruit or sweet e-liquid flavors are aimed predominantly at children. Even if it can be argued (and proven by studies) that adult vapers are more likely to make a permanent switch from smoking to vaping if fruit flavors are available, the same argument clearly can’t be made for vapes that look like fidget spinners.


The Emergence of Child-friendly Vape Designs

Pinpointing exactly when disposable vapes disguised as things like highlighter pens and milkshake cartons first appeared on the market is tricky, but it’s certainly not a recent thing. In 2020, Healthline wrote about vapes disguised as pens, hoodie drawstrings, and USB drives. Even earlier, the UK’s “The Times” newspaper featured articles exposing the use of cartoon characters to market vape liquids in 2018.

As vaping began to become more popular a decade ago, white-label vape wholesalers started to appear. These offer a variety of disposable vape designs that any retailer or distributor can customize with their own branding. Once they were established, it wasn’t a huge leap from there to offering customized vape shapes. Almost anyone could set up a “vape brand” in a matter of days, and start selling disposables designed in any way that they liked.

Despite the almost universally bad press about youth vaping and the marketing to children, leading to disposable bans being introduced in countries around the world, these inappropriately designed vapes are still being sold. Here are just a few examples that we found with just a few minutes of Googling.

Alladin Pro Enjoy 9K

Alladin Pro Enjoy 9K

Designed to look like a water bottle you might find in gyms, lunch bags, and at sports events almost anywhere in the world.


Highlight Vape

Highlight Vape

Looks disconcertingly like an actual highlighter pen. Several different styles of highlighter vape are available from this brand.


Kumiho THOTH T

Kumiho THOTH T

At a glance, this resembles a mini Bluetooth speaker. Not only that, it also has a sort of fidget spinner on the side.


SFOG Soul Bar

SFOG Soul Bar

Often described as being shaped like a wine bottle, but looks more like a small soda bottle. Closely resembles some novelty containers for candy found in many stores.


Prime Bar 7000

Prime Bar 7000

The design and branding look almost identical to the extremely popular energy drink that recently had people (particularly kids) going crazy for it.


R and M Squid Box

R and M Squid Box

Decorated with Squid Game characters, the mega-popular Netflix series that dropped a couple of years ago. A favorite of teens all over the world.


Do Disguised Vapes Encourage Youth Vaping?

There is clearly very little (or zero) need for something supposedly aimed at adults to be designed to look like a soda bottle or indeed anything other than a vape. But does this type of design and branding actually make young people more likely to vape?

It’s an interesting question because if youth vaping is such a huge concern and growing problem, you might assume surveys of young people about their nicotine habits would specifically ask what influences them. Indeed, many do. Yet we have not found any that list “because they look like a juice box and can be hidden easily” as a reason given for experimenting with vaping.

The most common reason, given by over half of the children in some surveys, for trying a vape for the first time is “just to see what it’s like”, which is the same reason commonly given for trying cigarettes. Other common reasons include:

  • Because a friend or family member vapes
  • The availability of pleasant flavors
  • The (correct) belief that vaping is less harmful than smoking
  • Seeing vaping on social media

Some surveys of adults, such as the UK’s public consultation on imposing a ban on disposables, suggest there is a belief that bright colors, packaging resembling popular candy brands, or vapes made to look like soft drink cans and toys influence kids to take up the habit. Surveys of the kids themselves don’t seem to agree with those assumptions.

The problem is that while there may be little evidence that these designs encourage children to vape, they could be said to enable continued vaping without being caught by parents, teachers, or other responsible adults. The ease with which some of the designs can be mistaken for something harmless could even encourage kids to vape more due to reduced fear of being caught. These are points that are easy for anti-vape voices to make, and very difficult to quantify or disprove.  


Youth Vaping Statistic Around the World

The increase in young people taking up vaping, particularly those who have never smoked previously, is a problem the vape industry and vape retailers should be doing more to prevent. Anything that even appears to be aimed at encouraging underage vaping, such as disposables that look like school supplies, is going to damage the industry as a whole.

While many disagree with banning something due to the actions of a minority rather than regulating it more effectively, youth vaping statistics around the world make it easy to see why governments feel extreme steps need to be taken.

United States

In the United States, where the sale of most unauthorized vapes and e-liquids (i.e. almost all of them) has been illegal for several years, studies have found that 1.56 million high school students and half a million middle school children reported current use of vapes in 2023. A large majority of those surveyed said they used flavored disposables like Elf Bars, Esco Bars, JUUL, and VUSE.

United Kingdom

A survey conducted by Action on Smoking and Health in 2023 found that 20.5% of children aged 11-17 had tried vaping, up from 15.8% in 2022. Most (11.6%) reported only using vapes once or twice, but more than 11% said they used vapes regularly. Every year since 2021, the proportion of current vaping has been greater than that of current smoking among children.

Europe

Analysis of data from 32 countries involving nearly 100,000 students aged 15–16 years old published in 2023 showed that 10.6% had used e-cigarettes at least once, and 6.0% used them regularly. A different study found that e-cigarette use more than doubled between 2014 and 2021 in Georgia and Italy and nearly doubled in Latvia. E-cigarette use was more prevalent among males aged 11-17.

Australia

Australia has recently introduced strict controls on the importation and sale of e-cigarettes, despite already having laws in place that made it illegal to get vapes without a prescription from a doctor. However, in 2022-23, a youth tobacco survey found that 28% of people aged 14 to 17 years old had ever used a vape, up from 9.6% in 2019. The most common reason young people gave for ever using e‑cigarettes was out of curiosity (70%).

New Zealand

New Zealand has made several U-turns over vaping and tobacco use in recent years, but the government has now announced it will push through a ban on disposable e-cigarettes, and raise fines for people who sell these types of products to minors. The latest available data on NZ youth vaping, collected from 2021 and 2022 surveys, suggests that 1 in 14 young people aged 15–17 (6.9%) were daily vapers. Of these, 76% were previously non-smokers, 18% were ex-smokers and 6% were current smokers.


The Bottom Line

While many may not like it, it shouldn’t be up to an industry to police itself – that’s why we have government regulation. But the vape industry has not only not policed itself, sections of it have acted in a way that has played right into the hands of those who would like to see it crushed. With proper regulation, sensible purchasing controls like those for tobacco and alcohol, and better education, vaping has the potential to significantly reduce the harm done by tobacco around the world.

Unfortunately, the stigma it has created for itself by pushing these dubiously targeted products is likely to be very hard to shake in the coming years and will ultimately affect more than just youth vaping figures. 

Russ Ware Author Picture 2

Russ Ware

Russ is a UK-based Staff Writer for Versed Vaper who has been in journalism for more than two decades, having previously written for tech publications like Lifewire. He tried vaping in 2015 but the setup that he was using wasn’t quite right and so he didn’t enjoy it at first. However, after going back and forth between vaping and smoking for a couple of years, he started experimenting with different coils, power levels, and mixing his own vape juice. The rest is history and Russ has been a devoted vaper ever since. Russ is a passionate writer and he produces reviews, news, and well-researched informational articles for our site. When Russ is not testing or writing about vapes, he likes to travel, read true crime, and eat anything with lots of chilies.

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