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JUUL Social Media Tags Popular Among Youth As Congress Examines Its Marketing Practices

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Lawmakers will look at an e-cigarette manufactures role in the teen vaping epidemic, amid growing concerns that JUUL vapes were targeted toward teens through social media campaigns that may have caused JUUL addictions and injuries for children and young adults nationwide.

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy began a two-day hearing this week, as part of an ongoing investigation into JUUL Lab’s role in the nicotine addiction epidemic amount American youth. The hearing comes amid accusations that the company purposefully marketed its products to underage youth and made misleading health claims, and that partnering with a major tobacco company did not help with those impressions.

Last month, Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi issued a press release announcing the investigation and calling for JUUL to turn over a trove of documents on its marketing data and marketing practices; particularly those on social media.

An increasing number of teens have tried e-cigarettes in recent years. An estimated 3.6 million middle and high school students across the country were current e-cigarette users in 2018; a significant increase from 1.5 million the year before. E-cigarettes have quickly become the most popular from of tobacco for teens in the U.S.

“The safety and well-being of America’s youth is not for sale,” he wrote. “I am extremely concerned about reports that JUUL’s high nicotine content is fueling addiction and that frequent JUUL use is sending kids across the country into rehab, some as young as 15.”

The hearing will involve Ashley Gould, JUUL Labs, Inc.’s chief administrative officer; the company’s co-founder and chief product officer, James Monsees; and Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The law makers will look at the company’s new ties to tobacco giant Altria, its marketing strategies, which many say targets children, and its presence on social media. The company claims it stopped using social media to market it’s products in November, 2018.

However, on July 22, a whitepaper (PDF) put out by Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising (SRITA) reported that the use of #JUUL and associated hashtags on Instagram actually increased after the company presumably stopped its social media promotions.

“In the 8 months since the company halted its promotional postings, the rate of community posting accelerated markedly resulting in the number of posts doubling to over half a million,” the group found. “Among #juul posts, 15.4% showed JUUL products, 28.1% JUUL competitors, and 3.7% products from both JUUL and its competitors. Reflecting the popularity of #juul as a gathering place for its largely youthful audience, nonvaping related posts made up the remaining 52.8%.”

This suggests that JUUL does not have to make the effort to promote its products on social media, consumers are doing it for them, and that community is largely made up of young people.

Researchers said the only way to stop the social media promotion would be to have Instagram take some kind of action against the use of JUUL-related hashtags, or to have JUUL have the usage shut down based on trademark infringement.

The findings and hearing comes amid increasing concerns about the teen vaping addiction epidemic, and a growing number of JUUL addiction lawsuits that allege the manufacturer has targeted teens and young adults with their product, while failing to warn about the health risks.

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