Leading e-cigarette company Juul Labs has tried to distance itself from a vast social media presence that experts say drives its popularity among teens.
But a CNN investigation sheds new light on how the company was encouraging and at times paying for social media users to promote its nicotine-filled product to thousands of their followers.
“We captured some photos.” Christina Zayas
For the last 10 years, she has made her living as a blogger and social media influencer. One of her recent jobs: Post positive content about the e-cigarette, Juul.
“They really wanted to appeal to the younger market, and they did!” Christina Zayas
Juul had hired an influencer marketing firm, which reached out to then 35 year-old Christina in September of 2017, hoping to target her 57,000 instagram followers.
“If you are a smoker, then please let me know if you’re interested in a collaboration with Juul.” Christina Zayas
Christina shared that 5% of her followers are in the 13-17 age range.
They are especially susceptible to being influenced, according to Stanford Researcher Dr. Robert Jackler who’s been following Juul since early marketing campaigns more than 3 years ago.
“They advertised exactly where young people live. Young people today are on social media. They’re on their phones continuously throughout the day looking on social media channels.” Dr. Robert Jackler
“Juul’s team reached out to me to work together. We came out with a sponsored post, which is just a blog post and on one instagram post, we came up with a $1000.” Christina Zayas
Juul declined an on camera interview but conceded it paid “fewer than 10 influencers 28 and up”, “who were all smokers or former smokers” and “collectively paid less than $10,000”
“I think it’s incumbent upon the companies that are marketing these products to also take steps to try to crack down on the youth use.” Scott Gottleib
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib’s concern is that teens are not aware that many e cigs contain high levels of nicotine, which is addictive, particularly harmful to the developing brain, and more likely to lead to traditional cigarette use.
Since the FDA cracked down on Juul this fall, the company says ended its social media campaign in the United States.
Dr Jackler says, too little too late, “turning off Juul’s own contribution at this point doesn’t matter because it’s become a fad and it’s taken on a life of its own.” Dr. Robert Jackler
For her part, Christina, has stopped using Juul and while her instagram post and blog reached more than 5,000 people, she wonders if it was worth it.
“Stepping back, I think that when I saw all the kids smoking it at this festival during the summer, it just kind of turned me off to it and I’m actually considering writing a blog post on why I quit.” Christina Zayas