Faculty Editor: Professor Jeffrey DaCosta
Although teens and young adults are beginning to abandon traditional cigarettes, they have been turning to e-cigarettes and JUULs at increasing rates, as 2014 marked the first year that more teens vaped than smoked cigarettes (Pesko & Currie, 2019). In a study conducted by TW Wang in 2018, it was found that over 1.7 million high school students and 390,000 middle school students have been using e-cigarettes. A more recent report (Ybarra 2019), found that 3/5 teens vape. Previously, tobacco products have been the leading cause of preventable disease and death, and it seems that there is a continuously growing fear regarding JUUL use As of January 14, 2020, there have been 60 known deaths, and 2,668 people hospitalized (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
A root cause of the vaping epidemic among teens is the way JUUL advertises its products, in which vaping is glamorized and adds are released on platforms commonly used by high school and middle school aged kids (Ybarra, 2019). This form of advertising is creating a new, nicotine-dependent generation, as growth in JUUL’s sales is directly correlated with an increase in advertising and promotion (Huang et al, 2019). Just in 2015 and 2017 alone, JUUL spent over $2.1 million on advertising and marketing, which allowed the company to massively grow since its 2015 conception (Huang et al, 2019).
The majority of JUUL’s popularity did not come from their marketing efforts, however, but their presence on social media, both directly and through affiliate accounts. JUUL related accounts or content has been seen on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit, all of which are targeted towards younger audiences. Ybarra (2019) found that there are over “30,000 videos on YouTube that including vaping” receiving “100 million views”. Twitter and Instagram are seen to have the largest effect on JUUL’s sales. There were 21,292 tweets relating to JUUL in 2016. This online presence is important to JUUL as a company, and the positive correlation between the frequency of the company’s name across social media platforms and sales.(Huang et al, 2019). Huang found that JUULs presence on Instagram is mainly through affiliated accounts that target various demographics and create a positive depiction of vaping (p. 149). These affiliate accounts allow JUUL to proliferate their sales and popularity, without placing themselves directly in the eyes of the viewer. There have been seven of these accounts reported that have a total of “4230 posts, and 278,172 followers” as of the release of this study (Huang et al, 2019). This marketing has been a central way for the company to produce their sales. Ybarra also reported that these posts heavily glamorize the use of JUUL by integrating feelings of relaxation, freedom and sex appeal with the emphasis on the different flavors available to the public. Therefore, JUUL began to step back from their own social media presence after receiving backlash from the public (Huang et al, 2019, p.150).
Due to the many implications JUUL and similar products have on public health, it is important to regulate its advertising, as the full scope of the potential short and long term side effects of e-cigarettes . The government must take a population-based strategy, where they implement regulations and policies on JUUL advertisements depending on their frequency. (Wang et al, 2018)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Outbreak of lung injury associated with the use of E-cigarette, or vaping, products. What is New.
- Huang, J., Duan, Z., Kwok, J., Binns, S., Vera, L. E., Kim, Y., … & Emery, S. L. (2019). Vaping versus JUULing: how the extraordinary growth and marketing of JUUL transformed the US retail e-cigarette market. Tobacco control, 28(2), 146-151.
- Pesko, M. F., & Currie, J. M. (2019). E-cigarette minimum legal sale age laws and traditional cigarette use among rural pregnant teenagers. Journal of health economics, 66, 71-90.
- Wang, T. W., Gentzke, A., Sharapova, S., Cullen, K. A., Ambrose, B. K., & Jamal, A. (2018). Tobacco product use among middle and high school students—United States, 2011–2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(22), 629.
- Ybarra, Michele. “The Influence of Social Media on Teen Use of E-Cigarettes.” Psychology Today, 21 Mar. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/connected/201903/the-influence-social-media-teen-use-e-cigarettes.