A growing number of vaporizer and e-cigarette sellers are offering college scholarships as a way to get listed on university websites and to get students to write about the benefits of using a vaporizer.
While the tactic has landed many brands on the websites of major universities, including Harvard, many experts speculate that the scholarships are merely a ploy to attract new customers and ultimately increase sales.
The essay contests, which ask for custom research paper writing, typically offer scholarships of $250-$5,000. Students are often asked to write about the dangers of tobacco use and if vaping could be a safe alternative. One company asks applicants to write about the different types of e-cigarettes available and to choose one to recommend. Other contests ask students to write in support of medical marijuana.
It is unknown how many – if any – of the scholarships have been awarded.
Some that are offering the scholarships admit that the tactic is partly a marketing tool, but they also claim that many in the industry are former smokers and want to help teens avoid cigarettes.
High schools are struggling to rein in the soaring use of vaporizing devices, with many campuses installing alarms that detect the vapor and threatening students with suspension. Smaller, more discreet vaporizers are making their way into high school classrooms and bathrooms. Some say the scholarships may violate federal rules that prohibit e-cigarette and tobacco companies from marketing to minors.
Vaporizers are difficult to detect in schools, as they leave behind a quick puff of vapor and a pleasant scent. Some students are getting away with using the devices in classrooms, with some blowing the vapor into their shirts to remain discreet.
The Food and Drug Administration is looking into the marketing tactics of Juul, a vape product that is especially popular with teens and is shaped like a flash drive.
Marketing experts say college scholarships are a form of cheap advertising, and the vaping industry isn’t the first to employ the tactic.
The strategy emerged years ago, when websites would offer scholarships as a way to get a link on a government or college website. At the time, it was believed that such high-value links would boost rankings on the search results.
The tactic still works today, and vaping scholarships have found their way on to financial-aid directories at universities, like the University of Pittsburgh, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley.