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Big Tobacco’s Approach to Vaping: Sensory Overload

by | Oct 24, 2021 | RE@L StudentCorner | 0 comments

Perhaps Robert Fulgham had things right in his 1990 book: Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Adults today would be wise to pick up that book to refresh our memories about the most basic of human expectations for how we treat one another.

Much of what’s right we learned in kindergarten. Perhaps some of what’s wrong was learned in kindergarten as well. The lesson is clear: Don’t be too quick to make friends with those who don’t really care about you. And — be alert — things that sound too good to be true ARE almost always too good to be true. And just because it tastes good or looks good or smells good or feels good or sounds good, doesn’t mean that it’s good for your health!  

Yes, Kindergarten is indeed such a formative time for children. Peel back the cover of what we educators call the “Common Core Standards,” for instance. There, you will  find reference to instruction about the five senses for kindergartners. You know them too: sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell.

Of course, our students will spend a lifetime immersed in the five senses. At kindergarten, they may be required to understand each of the senses separately, but as a growing human being, they will forever synthesize these senses in their own life experiences. Some of these sensory experiences they will never forget.

Take an apple, for example. When you first pick it up, do you think about how it would taste and smell once you take a bite of it?

When you think of the word grape, do you immediately associate it with the color purple? 

Then there is orange. Of course some fruits are indeed their own color: orange. Which leaves one to wonder: which came first — the fruit or the color? 

One could easily say that it in some way or some form, just about every experience we have as human beings is immersed in one or more ways with the five senses — something we learned about in kindergarten. Powerful isn’t it? It can affect our entire lives and at any age. 

Yes. Powerful indeed!!!

So powerful that tobacco and vaping advertisers leverage those five senses to create vibrant, memorable experiences which make those senses we learned come to life. We have seen the results of really “good and wholesome” advertising campaigns, haven’t we? Campaigns that hit one or more or all of the five senses in one advertisement? Campaigns that convince us we cannot live another day without the product? If you’ve read this far in to the blog, you might be thinking “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is!” right now. Have some good examples of successful old or new advertising campaigns?  Email the Blogmeister with your favorites. I will keep a list for a future post.

Now, let’s turn our attention to advertising strategies that use the five senses to promote products that are actually harmful to the very people who buy the products.

For years now, tobacco companies have been leveraging the five senses to lure children in to the e-cigarette and vaping scene. They have effectively used sensory overload to their advantage.

Grape flavored nicotine delivery systems? It’s what they are selling — with children in mind! And those kids who regularly vape are encouraging their friends:

“Try this, it tastes like grape and it makes you feel good.”

“Try this, it smells like cherry and it makes you feel good.”

“Try this, no one will know you have it. It looks like a jump drive.”

“Try this. It makes you feel good, and no one can hear it.”

“Try this. It makes you feel good, and the smoke goes away in a few seconds.” 

It’s an epidemic that is flying under the radar screen in school environments which first need to navigate mask and vaccination policies during a global pandemic.

As always, savvy educators are working to interrupt this vaping crisis. The team at RE@L is introducing to educators across the country a teacher-tested instructional tool which is a difference-maker! 1Up On Vaping™ is a highly engaging tool which helps students understand the dangers of vaping.

Designed with middle school students in mind, 1Up On Vaping™ is an engaging graphic arts story which places the student as the main character in a narrative which comes alive for them with new and reinforcing content about vaping.

1Up On Vaping™ is highly flexible for the teacher. It can be used as a stand-alone module over two or three class periods or it could be used as a supplement over several days or weeks of instruction.

Even more, 1Up On Vaping™ is fully aligned with state and national health standards, including the National Institutes of Health.

Our children are bombarded daily with hundreds of vibrant stimuli. So much so, that educators sometimes feel their classrooms cannot compete. And they shouldn’t. If anything, our students need time away from the onslaught of images that consume their thinking. As educators, we should give ourselves permission to help our students recognize the world of sensory overload in which we live, and find the joy in resting our OWN minds and the minds of our students as well.

Embedded in the 1Up On Vaping™ experience for students is a game called “The Agency.” In the game, students actually develop a message that would resonate with their peers. In so doing, students actually experience and subsequently UNDERSTAND how they have become targets of big tobacco.

You’ll read more about 1Up On Vaping’s™ game, “The Agency,” in a future RE@L blog post. Stay tuned!


*Some images in this blog were provided courtesy of


Randy Nelson


Randy Nelson is a retired educator of 38 years. He served students as a high school speech, theater, and English teacher. He served colleagues as a director of curriculum and instruction; and, most recently he served the La Crosse, WI school district as its superintendent of schools. He has a strong leadership track record promoting choice and innovation via unique community partnerships. He currently serves RE@L, inc as its Director of Education.