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Amid rising concerns about the vaping epidemic amoung teens in the United States, a new report highlights how the popular e-cigarette company JUUL paid social media users to promote their products, reaching thousands of underage users in the process.
A recent CNN investigation outlines the steps the company took to encourage teens and previous non-smokers to start using e-cigarettes, attempting to hook young users and develop a long-term habit.
For years, critics have accused vaping companies of intentionally targeting teens with e-cigarette ads, and the report indicates the company encouraged and paid for social media influencers to promote JUUL vaping products to thousands of followers on multiple social media platforms.
CNN indicates that some social media influencers made a full-time career out of reviewing products and posting photos for the brand. Many brands create specific budgets to pay social media influencers to do just that.
The investigation explains how influencers were called to share their vaping experiences on their blogs and social media. One influencer was paid $1,000 for a post that gained 1,500 likes and reached 4,500 people. The post included comments like, “You make smoking look so good.”
JUUL established an affiliate link program, which offered commissions for purchases made through referral links on social media.
Many critics say this the campaign was specifically designed to appeal to an underage market; a tactic taken straight from big tobacco’s playbook, which aimed advertising at teens to create lifelong customers.
A recent study indicated e-cigarette advertising reaches 80% of middle and high school students in the U.S. Furthermore, vaping during adolescence quadruples a teen’s risk of becoming a cigarette tobacco smoker later.
Now, citing its push toward preventing teen tobacco users, JUUL is trying to distance the company from a widespread social media presence that helps to boost visibility and popularity among teens. The company now claims its influencer campaign and affiliate program were both small, and are no longer in active. However, even small influencer accounts can reach thousands and sometimes millions of users, helping drive the JUUL brand, which now makes up 75% of the U.S. e-cigarette market.
The affiliate program ended in October 2018, and the influencer program reportedly ended earlier this year. JUUL also claims it established a dedicated internal team to work with social media platforms to get unsanctioned accounts promoting JUUL products taken down.
The company also phased out many of its U.S. based social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram feeds. It maintains limited Twitter and YouTube posts.
Recently, JUUL indicated it planned to stop selling flavored vape pods in stores and would only sell them in a limited manner online. Now, the company says its vaping products are intended only for cigarette users who are trying to quit tobacco. They claim they don’t want minors or nonsmokers using their products.
Critics warn the damage may have already been done as more and more teens continue to vape, putting developing brains at risk for addiction later.